Rebecca Lim, Tiger Daughter, Allen & Unwin, February 2021, 224 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760877644
What I feel most days is that nothing is ever going to change. That my life won’t even start, and that I’ll be stuck like this forever.
Fourteen-year-old Wen Zhou feels trapped. The only child of Chinese immigrants and a girl, her world feels extremely small. Her father is bitter about working long hours at a restaurant even though he has a medical degree and takes his frustrations and fears out on his wife and daughter. Wen sees her Mum as dutiful, hard-working and resourceful, but ultimately helpless, and Wen dreads a similar life. Her friend at school Henry Xiao also faces similar circumstances, but he has a plan. He convinces Wen to sit for an exam at a selective high school so they might both change their stars. But when tragedy strikes Henry’s family, Wen will need to find the strength to help them both.
On the surface Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim seems like a simple domestic story set in Australia from the point of view of a Chinese/Australian girl. But the complexity and depth of issues this story grapples with are astounding. Racism, misogyny, financial and domestic abuse, and cultural diversity are all examined through fourteen-year-old Wen’s unique eyes. And it’s this complexity along with the richness of culture and diversity that makes this quiet story both compelling and memorable.
The story is expertly told, and I found myself immediately drawn into Wen’s world. Her voice and experiences felt genuine and the book brims with heart and hope. It definitely achieves the author’s aim of building empathy in its readers. Its only slight wobble is the ending, which is somewhat Hollywood, but on reflection entirely appropriate for the readership and does not take away from the story’s authenticity.
Tiger Daughter is a fabulous choice for school book clubs not only because of the breadth of issues it touches but also because its inclusion of ethnic and migrant children is a viewpoint that has not been widely depicted in mainstream middle-grade books.
A brilliant, contemporary Australian story of family, friendship and courage, Tiger Daughter will appeal to middle-grade and early YA readers who liked The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman, The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks and The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon.
Reviewed by Renee Milhulka