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Book Review: Factory Girl by Josanne La Valley

Publisher’s description

factoryIn order to save her family’s farm, Roshen, sixteen, must leave her rural home to work in a factory in the south of China. There she finds arduous and degrading conditions and contempt for her minority (Uyghur) background. Sustained by her bond with other Uyghur girls, Roshen is resolved to endure all to help her family and ultimately her people. A workplace survival story, this gritty, poignant account focuses on a courageous teen and illuminates the value—and cost—of freedom.

 

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Sixteen-year-old Roshen intends to continue her schooling to become a teacher. Her plans are changed for her when she is sent away to work in a factory in southern China. Roshen is devastated to have to leave her Muslim Uyghur family, who live near the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China. In addition to leaving behind her plans for school and her family, she leaves Ahmat, the boy she shares a special connection with and who it seems likely she will soon be engaged to. Roshen’s family isn’t told exactly where she will be taken, only that she will be gone for a year and is not allowed any devices or contact with her family. She and Ahmat set up a secret email address for her and devise a code, hoping she will be able to find internet stations and at least get a little information back to him. They expect that Roshen will be mistreated at the factory and discuss how she shouldn’t fight back. There may be spies and traitors among the girls, too.

 

Roshen and eleven other Uyghur girls are taken on the long journey to their factory. They’re led by Ushi, who is not only mean, but unfortunately also one of their bosses. They arrive to learn they will cut, sew, and finish work wear. It’s grueling work that’s hard on their bodies. The girls work very long hours, are hit with a rod if appearing unsatisfactory, are forced to speak Mandarin only (and penalized  if they speak Uyghur), aren’t allowed to wear their headscarves, and are often served meals with pork in them. They’re served tea with a drug in it to keep them awake so they can work longer hours. Many of the Chinese girls use clothespins to keep their eyes open. Additionally, the girls don’t even make money for many months as they are forced to pay for their trip from home to the factory, their meals, their uniforms, and the many unfair penalties they are assessed.

 

The twelve Uyghur girls are isolated from the rest of the workers and though they don’t all get along, and Roshen can’t stop wondering is someone is a spy, they bond together to help and protect one another. Roshen becomes a leader and learns how to work the system and avoid punishment as best she can. Roshen’s closest friend, Mikray, is defiant and determined to escape. Young Zuwida is in very poor health and only getting worse. Proud and haughty Hawa is selected to help the bosses by looking beautiful and being available to help placate clients. Eventually, Roshen, who speaks English in addition to Mandarin and Uyghur, is forced to go out with the boss and some clients. She is horrified by what is expected of her and receives some very unexpected (and heartbreaking) help. After returning to the factory, she is determined to allow herself to become gaunt, unwashed, and unappealing to avoid further assignments like this. Her decision has unintended consequences that leave her feeling incredibly guilty but also move her to further action.

 

Throughout all of her time at the factory, Roshen tries to remember the power of words. She clings to the songs and poems she has been taught and formulates her own. Her experience as a factory girl changes her forever. Roshen knows now that she will write, that she will tell the story of the factory girls. Generally well-written, the story’s one real downfall is the lack of development of many of the Uyghur girls, who don’t feel necessary beyond showing they are part of the block of girls isolated and most abused. At the same time, it’s the development of the girls who do carry pieces of the story, and their friendships and support, that make this story especially interesting and powerful. My ARC didn’t include the afterword, which apparently provides more context for the story and how La Valley came to tell it.  This harrowing story of exploitation, abuse, and forced labor is a compelling (and horrifying) look at a story (and a setting) not often seen in YA. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780544699472

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Publication date: 01/10/2017

Lists, Letters, and More: YA Books with Characters Who Write

National Words Matter Week is March 1-7, so it’s the perfect time to set up a display of books featuring characters who write. What are they writing? Well, everything!

 

The characters in these books write lists, letters, zines, diaries, poetry, even obituaries. As a teen who was obsessed with writing (those are just some of my teenage diaries in that picture over there), I always loved finding characters in books who wrote. What did I write as a teen? Lists, letters, zines, diaries, poetry… no obituaries. I edited the school newspaper and the literary magazine. Thanks to the world of zines (a world of mine you can read more about here, as well as my personal connection to Hard Love, my favorite YA book about zines, here), I had pen pals from all around the world and was never short on letters that needed replying to. I still love it when I find characters who focus on writing. I love a good epistolary novel, or getting to peek in a character’s diary.

 

Here are a few picks, both old and new, to get your display started. Summaries via the publisher or WorldCat. Have more titles to add? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @TLT16 or @CiteSomething

 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (2014)

When Laurel starts writing letters to dead people for a school assignment, she begins to spill about her sister’s mysterious death, her mother’s departure from the family, her new friends, and her first love.

 

 

Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You by Todd Hasak-Lowry (3/24/2015)

Through a series of lists, a narrator reveals how fifteen-year old Darren’s world was rocked by his parents’ divorce just as his brother, Nate, was leaving for college, and a year later when his father comes out as gay, then how he begins to deal with it all after a stolen weekend with Nate and his crush, Zoey.

 

 

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (2014)

Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez chronicles her senior year in high school as she copes with her friend Cindy’s pregnancy, friend Sebastian’s coming out, her father’s meth habit, her own cravings for food and cute boys, and especially, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

 

 

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger (1999)

After starting to publish a zine in which he writes his secret feelings about his lonely life and his parents’ divorce, sixteen-year-old John meets an unusual girl and begins to develop a healthier personality.

 

 

Sex & Violence by Carrie Mesrobian (2013)

Sex has always come without consequences for seventeen-year-old Evan. Until he hooks up with the wrong girl and finds himself in the wrong place at very much the wrong time. After an assault that leaves Evan scarred inside and out, he and his father retreat to the family cabin in rural Minnesota—which, ironically, turns out to be the one place where Evan can’t escape other people. Including himself. It may also offer him his best shot at making sense of his life again.

 

 

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and illustrated by Maira Kalman (2011)

Sixteen-year-old Min Green writes a letter to Ed Slaterton in which she breaks up with him, documenting their relationship and how items in the accompanying box, from bottle caps to a cookbook, foretell the end.

 

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (2004)

Three female students from Ashbury High write to three male students from rival Brookfield High as part of a pen pal program, leading to romance, humiliation, revenge plots, and war between the schools.

 

 

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (1982)

From teenage Adrian’s obsession with intellectuality after understanding “nearly every word” of a Malcolm Muggeridge broadcast to his anguished adoration of a lovely, mercurial schoolmate, from his view of his parents’ constantly creaking relationship to his heartfelt but hilarious attempts at cathartic verse, here is an outrageous triumph of deadpan and deadly accurate, satire.

 

 

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2014)

Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

 

Famous Last Words by Jennifer Salvato Doktorski (2013)

During a summer internship as an obituary writer for her local northern New Jersey newspaper, sixteen-year-old Samantha D’Angelo makes some momentous realizations about politics, ethics, her family, romance, and most importantly–herself.

 

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (2010)

16-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on her favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. Dash, in a bad mood during the holidays, happens to be the first guy to pick up the notebook and rise to its challenges.

What follows is a whirlwind romance as Dash and Lily trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations all across New York City. But can their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions, or will their scavenger hunt end in a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.