CM . . .
. Volume XXIII Number 35. . . May 19, 2017
White Jade Tiger is an award-winner, and this is the 25th year anniversary of its publication. In 1994, it won the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize as well as the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award. Very useful and interesting additions to the novel are the chronology of the history of the Chinese in Canada and the “Historical Note”. Furthermore, throughout the story, the author has included many instances describing the racism directed towards the Chinese community in the past.
There are three plots in this book that run in parallel. The present day story introduces the reader to Jasmine Steele, a 12-year-old girl who is dealing with the loss of her mother in a car accident. Jasmine dreams of Bright Jade, a concubine from ancient China who is destined to be buried in the tomb of an Emperor until she is given a magic amulet, a tiger made of white jade. Whenever Jasmine dreams of Bright Jade, she escapes from her grief in the present. The third story strand is the introduction to Keung, a young man who leaves China in the 1880’s for Canada with hopes of finding his father and the jade tiger in order to break a curse on his family.
The plot of this novel allows the author to explore the troubles of the Chinese in British Colombia as they build the Canadian Pacific Railway through the treacherous Rockies and, in particular, the Fraser Canyon. Jasmine travels to the past and meets Keung via a time portal in Fan Tan Alley in Victoria, and they share many adventures as they seek the white jade tiger and Keung’s father while avoiding an evil man who is after them for the tiger amulet. Although the story will have a regional appeal, it is still an exciting read, and the themes of the book are universal. Jasmine has to deal with the death of her mother and the feeling of being left behind when her father travels to China for work. Keung also deals with starting a new life in Canada and finding his way.
The adventure is fast paced and consistently logical. Character development is excellent, especially that of Jasmine who, we learn, is interested in Tai Chi and Chinese culture.
There are many references to death in White Jade Tiger, such as the mention of a man who has his head blown off in an explosion which I feel makes the book more suitable for an older age than the recommended 9 to 12 years.
Janet Johnson, a retired librarian, used to teach Children’s Literature for the Library Technician Program at Red River College in Winnipeg, MB.
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