Irene Shen’s husband has just passed away unexpectedly, leaving her stunned and craving more family time with her three daughters: Nora, a successful Wall Street trader, Kay, a student currently studying abroad in China, and Sophie, just about to graduate high school and attend Stanford for her first year of college. Irene plans a trip to China for the four of them, along with her sister Susan and her mother, Lin Yulan. As these six women aren’t exactly best friends, none of the six of them (with the exception of Irene) has high hopes for the trip, but they all agree to go anyway. Although there are some major tensions and skirmishes that occur throughout the trip, it really ends up being a chance to get to know one another better, and to better understand their family’s history and with that, themselves.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this read. I received it as a surprise from the publisher, and initially I wasn’t planning on reading it. Then I read the summary and I decided I would have to give it a try, as I love stories about women’s friendships/relationships/whatever. I have to say that A Thread of Sky was much better than I was expecting, and I’m very glad I gave it the chance it deserves.
The women in A Thread of Sky were written very well – I empathized with each one of them, and each personality was fully developed. I think Fei did an excellent job of really creating complex, interesting characters, which isn’t easy to do for six people in one novel. She definitely did that – I felt something for each of these women, and although I didn’t like them all, I definitely felt like they were actual people, not simply filler characters.
I also appreciated that the relationships between these six women were not at all one-dimensional or stereotypical. Each of them had been hurt by some or all of the other five, and the trip was a way for them to come to terms with all the pain they carried around up until that point. I think Fei really fleshed out these relationships and helped the reader see how one person’s actions affected the other five, and how different choices the women had made in their younger years snowballed and had drastic effects, two generations later.
There were a few things I didn’t love about A Thread of Sky, I must admit. While I liked how the perspective of the book shifted from woman to woman throughout, sometimes I felt like the transitions were a bit clunky. As in, I’d have to double read a few sentences to figure out whose voice I was reading at a few points throughout the book. Also, I would have liked to get a little bit more about the actual scenery of China, more details about what they were visiting, what they saw, etc. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know if Fei cultivated a sense of place as well as she could have. And the cover is nothing to write home about, unfortunately. While these are minor quibbles, they made the reading experience less than perfect for me, and it would have been a better book, for me, if some things were improved a bit.
Regardless of the few things I didn’t love about A Thread of Sky, I found it to be a very solid novel, and a really enjoyable one too. This is Deanna Fei’s first novel and it is definitely an impressive debut. I absolutely recommend trying it out for yourself.