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Book Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

Pearl and May are beautiful girls living the high life in Shanghai in 1937. They spend their evenings modeling and partying without a care in the world. But then their father announces that he has lost all their money gambling and has agreed to marry them off to two Chinese-American men to pay his debt. The girls go through with the wedding but refuse to follow the men to America, deciding instead to continue the life they've always known. But when the man who arranged the marriages begins to threaten their family, and the war invades their city, they find themselves on a treacherous journey to a very different life.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is a story of sisterhood at its core. The relationship she builds between Pearl and May is complex and very real. There are many conflicts and many examples of the deep love they feel for one another ~ from their struggle to get out of Shanghai to their experiences as married women in America. Throughout the story, they show their commitment to each other, and their deep-rooted sibling rivalry, as they navigate this new life they have been thrust into unwillingly.

Lisa See brings 1930s Shanghai and Chinatown in Los Angeles to life, from the customs and clothing of the time, to the way Chinese-American businesses and families were run. There are many examples of the struggle with melding traditional customs with modern society, both in Shanghai and Los Angeles. Pearl and May often disagree over this, with Pearl harboring resentment for May, who appears to be just thinking of herself and having fun.

I really enjoyed Shanghai Girls. I would even say I was able to connect more to this novel than See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It does end with a cliffhanger, though, so I will be picking up Dreams of Joy very soon, so I can find out what happens next! If you like historical fiction, I highly recommend this one.

My Rating: 4.5/5

For more information, visit the author's website
Read an excerpt
Discussion questions for Shanghai Girls
Read my review of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This review was written based on a copy of Shanghai Girls that I purchased.


  1. I'm glad you reviewed this one; I just got it from the library.

  2. It's always nice to hear about a book that's a bit different. I think I'll add this one to my reading list.

  3. See's Shanghai Girls has REALLY captured my heart....


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