Li Jun and the Iron Road by Anne Tait

Li Jun and the Iron Road was adapted from the TV miniseries, The Iron Road.   Li Jun is  a young Chinese girl whose father Li Junhas gone to Canada to build the railroads.  After a time he has not been heard from or sent money, so Li Jun is sent by he mother to work as a servant for the first wife of the head of their clan in Hong Kong. When her mother dies, she is determined not to return to her abusive position, but to travel to Canada to work on the railroad and seek her father, Li Man.

LI Jun goes back to Hong Kong, disguised as a boy, and gets work in a firecracker factory.  There she also earns extra cash delivering laundry.  One of her customers, a kind man who is an alcoholic named Mr. Relic, becomes her tutor and teaches her Engllish.  Another mentor is Mr. Zhou from the fireworks factory.  In one of my favorite scenes from the book, Mr. Zhou teaches Li Jun how to explode a walnut shell without shattering the nut inside.  This will be a valuable skill when she becomes a railroad builder.

There is a lot to be commended in this book.  Baits can paint intimate scenes, like the one of her working with Mr. Zhou, or moments with her mother, but it all seems very rushed.  She seems to become an excellent English speaker overnight.  Her daily life in the railway is not fully explored and her relationship with Mr. James proceeds too quickly.

Nevertheless the story of Chinese railway workers, the discrimination, unsafe conditions, the lying and cheating that were used to get cheap labor is told.

I would give this 2 1/2 stars and recommend it to 4th and 5th graders.  It may have been intended for older audiences, but it lacks substance for it to be a praiseworthy YA read.

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