Ji-Li Jiang–Red Scarf Girl

The What: What would you do if you had to choose between saving your family, and saving yourself? Barely a teenager, Ji-Li Jiang faced that choice during China’s Cultural Revolution. This book illuminates the ways in which the Revolution changed her school, friends, and family.

The Good: I have no idea how Ji-Li Jiang succeeded in telling such an intense story in such a level manner, but she makes it seem effortless. The heartbreak and terror she feels come through in items as small as a pencil case, and in snippets of overheard dialogue that are brief and chilling. The way that her world comes apart piece-by-piece reminded me of Neal Shusterman’s Unwind, but as it was a true story, it hit that much harder. The normal stress of moving from childhood into adolescence, of identifying what is acceptable and what is not, becomes unthinkably difficult as the Cultural Revolution seeks to purge the country of the “Four Olds.” What is fourolds? Ji-Li’s struggle to keep up when it seemed to change from day to day in ways that increasingly constricted and condemned her makes for an affecting, anxiety-inducing read.

The Meh: The way that the book is structured, the story is somewhat slow to take off. However, establishing a baseline, a picture of what life was like before the Revolution, is a necessary step to demonstrate the movement’s impact.

Hand It To: Nancy Pearl’s setting and character readers, history buffs, teens unaware of or interested in learning more about the Cultural Revolution

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