The hardships that confront Li-yan in her life are as compelling as the fog-shrouded secret groves where she and her mother cultivate a special healing tea. I could have hung out here in remote China forever, but See has wider ground to cover, including Chinese adoption, the international fine tea market and modern Chinese migration to the United States. It is harder to write with empathy about rich people, and as the story takes its biggest leap — from rural China to wealthy Los Angeles — I did chortle at the line 'Three days later I’m in Beverly Hills having dinner in a restaurant called Spago.' But it is a testament to See’s ability as a writer and to her impeccable research that she commands our attention again immediately ... A lush tale infused with clear-eyed compassion, this novel will inspire reflection, discussion and an overwhelming desire to drink rare Chinese tea.
Fans of the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will find much to admire in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, as both books closely illuminate stories of women’s struggles and solidarity in minority-ethnic and rural Chinese cultures. At times the author’s research strains Tea Girl, weighing the story down with a fair amount of minutely detailed tea production methods. But in rendering the complex pain and joy of the mother-daughter bond, Lisa See makes this novel — dedicated to her own mother, author Carolyn See, who died last year — a deeply emotional and satisfying read.
The rest of the novel is strong, but sometimes feels off balance due to the different narrative techniques used to tell the mother and daughter’s diverging stories. See doesn’t always trust the reader’s ability to make the leap into an Akha girl’s mind, and pushes too hard to generate understanding ... evocatively conjured through tremendous research, so much so that it steals the spotlight from the inherent drama of a girl who loses her daughter and leaves her traditional world behind. Still, the novel is an alluring escape, a satisfying and vivid fable that uses an Akha belief to tap into our own longings for coincidence.