I’ve been hesitant to read this one because I didn’t enjoy Shanghai Girls, the novel that preceded this one, that much (what is the good term for that? I feel like that prequel is inaccurate because to me a prequel is something that takes place previously but was written/filmed afterwards … I would never call the first part of Harry Potter a prequel to Part II though I have seen the word prequel used in that kind of context; I just think it’s incorrect). Shanghai Girls started off well enough, but by the end of the novel, it just felt too much like a rehashing of any other novel about the difficulties of being an Asian immigrant to the United States. I don’t think I would have been quite as disappointed if the novel hadn’t started off strong, and if I hadn’t had such high expectations due to Lisa See’s previous novels. I also think I was getting irritated with the main character who did tend to focus on the negative in life and the things she didn’t have (so it was nice when her sister called her out on that).
Having said that, I enjoyed Dreams of Joy more than I did Shanghai Girls. I’m not sure if that is due to lowered expectations, or if it is because she dealt with a topic that I’m familiar with in passing, but haven’t read too much about in fiction or otherwise. At the end of Shanghai Girls, Joy finds out the truth about her parents, and decides to run away to Communist China (this novel takes place in the ’50s). The chapters alternate between Joy as she sees Mao’s China, and Pearl as she follows her daughter to save her. Joy’s parents have always warned her against the Communist regime of China, but in college, she joined a student group that discussed the positives of Communism and the community it creates. As a result, 19 year old and idealistic Joy is an extremely annoying and naive character for the first half of her chapters, always seeing the positive, ignoring the bad despite the half clues her birth father, Z.G. Lin occasionally gives her.