Narrator(s): Ruthie Ann Miles, Kimiko Glenn, Alexandra Allwine, Gabra Zackman, Jeremy Bobb, Joy Osmanski, Emily Walton, Erin Wilhelmi
Length: 14 hours 7 minutes
Read: May 2017
The thrilling new novel from number-one New York Times best-selling author Lisa See explores the lives of a Chinese mother and her daughter who has been abandoned and adopted by an American couple.
Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate – the first automobile any of them have seen – and a stranger arrives.
In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people. In her biggest seller, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See introduced the Yao people to her audience. Here she shares the customs of another Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, whose world will soon change.
Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock rather than stand by tradition, she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city.
After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley’s happy home life, she wonders about her origins, and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for generations.
A powerful story about a family separated by circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond that connects mothers and daughters.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a Lisa See book, so it was due time to read one! I feel like every couple years I long for one of her novels since she’s so great at weaving family stories into passionate historical tales that are true to their culture and emotionally driven. This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to of her books and it’s definitely not going to be my last!
I loved learning about the Ahka culture and Li-yan growing up in it. This isn’t an easy historical to read; just like in Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, there are some very heavy and difficult passages to read, so I definitely took this book in smaller doses than I usually do with audiobooks and listened to it over a span of four days. Lisa’s writing is super compelling and she pulls me in right from the get-go, and the great narration had me loving this book. I loved all of the tea culture and even though I thought I new a lot about tea, this taught me so much more, and it was really great to read how tea is actually harvested – I knew it was picked by hand, but the process is just so much more.
I also loved how this story wasn’t just about tea and the Ahka culture, but also about this child that Li-yan had to give up. Being adopted myself, it was really interesting to read!
The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was that the ending seemed super rushed and almost … fantastical? I guess? It was exactly what I had predicted would happen and almost too easy. I don’t want to give anything away, but in a way it was definitely a great ending, but just not too realistic.
A note on the narration, I really enjoyed listening to this one on audiobook. At first I was a little scared because there were so many narrators, but it was nice to really just have one main narrator for Li-yan’s part of the story, and then there were letters and case notes with other narrators and it almost helped break up the story, making it really enjoyable. I loved how the story came to life in the audio and it was almost more compelling than it would have been if I read the physical book. I think listening left me my hands free to gasp in shock at certain parts and to really focus on what was being told to me. It was also nice to have the proper pronunciations and have that emotion really come across through the narration.