The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Lisa See’s recent novel is steeped in the unique lifestyle of the Akha, a Chinese ethnic minority that treasures the art of harvesting Pu’er tea leaves. Li-yan has been taught all of the customs and beliefs of her people; however, when Li-yan is faced with an impossible decision, she abandons what she has been taught, despite the heartbreaking consequences that must follow. In California, Haley loves her adopted parents, yet she yearns to know her Chinese birth-mother. In short epistolary segments, See reveals Haley’s search for her identity, having only a rare tea cake to guide her.
See has a gift for making the residents of the isolated Yunnan village come to life with precise details. Though the beginning of the novel is heavy with explanations of the intriguing Akha practices, See successfully propels the captivating plot forward with intensity. See heavily explores Li-Yan’s journey through the novel and unfortunately gives significantly less emphasis to Haley’s story, although the unique epistolary form used to show Haley’s perspective is creative. The entire novel seems to promise a strong ending, but the unsatisfying conclusion is predictable and rushed. However, the writing that precedes it is absolutely worthwhile. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a fascinating read.