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Class set order code: 9035S
Jasmine Wu and her friend Oz find themselves thrust back in time to Chinatown, San Francisco, 1898. Jasmine is kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Oz must dress as a boy to try to rescue her. Each of them meets Jasmine’s great-great-grandfather, a Chinese immigrant named Charlie Fong, but nothing is as they expected it would be. How can the girls get the past to change in the way it must to make sure that the future happens as it should?
Unswept Graves combines adventure, history, and science fiction into a compelling story about a young girl who learns the value of her cultural and ancestral identity in the most unusual way.
The story starts in the present day in a small Nebraska town about to celebrate its annual Founders’ Day. The founders include young Jasmine Wu’s great-great-grandparents, Charlie and Hannah Fong. Jasmine and her friend Oz discover the full truth of the Fongs’ story when they are suddenly and magically transported by a mysterious pendant back in time to the Chinatown of San Francisco in the 1890s.
The late nineteenth century was a dangerous time to be Chinese in America, especially for young girls. Jasmine is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Oz dresses as a boy to stay safe while she works to find her friend and figure out how to rescue her and get her to the shelter of the Mission Home. Each of them meets Charlie Fong, who is not at all the man they expect, in part because his wife has already died childless, but also because he has no interest in moving to Nebraska. How can the girls get the past to change in the way it must to make sure that the future happens as it should?
The book’s title refers to the traditional Chinese festival of Ching Ming, or “Grave-Sweeping Day,” when families pay tribute to their ancestors and tend to their family gravesites. Author Robert Black says that his purpose in writing the book was “to give readers a taste of what life used to be like—and an experience of being there. I hope, too, they will learn the same lessons that Jasmine learns during her trip to the past about the challenges and hardships Chinese immigrants had to face and the determination it took them to survive.”
Black’s research into the life of Chinese immigrants revealed shocking anti-Chinese prejudice in the U.S. at the time and also the dangerous work of rescuing slave girls by the Presbyterian Mission Home in San Francisco. The home still exists on Sacramento Street; it is now Cameron House, a Chinese community center.
“This is a charming, highly imaginative, and inventive book that is equally well-written and well-researched…. It introduces to young adult readers a largely-unknown aspect of Chinese-American history that takes off first in Nebraska. How many books are there about the Chinese in Nebraska? Probably no others. The Chinese-American experience in the Midwest is largely, albeit not totally, ignored in fiction.
“One of the particular delights of this book is that, although Jasmine and Oz are thrust into the past, at all times they are aware of being from the future…. Their determined 21st-century American responses to 19th-century situations deftly reveal the difference between the accepted social place of women then and now. At the same time, we are given a view of 19th-century horse-and-buggy life and the vicissitudes of Chinese immigrants in the lawless American West.
“Several stories are woven into this narrative: Chinese-American history, the plight of mixed-race children, abuse of women, positive interactions between Chinese and Caucasians in 19th-century California, missionary work among immigrants, and life in small-town America. And the narrative is, if not totally believable (unless we believe we can go back to the past), totally captivating.” – Raymond Lum, China Insight
“I couldn’t put this book down and kept getting in trouble for reading in class and at dinner! It is interesting to find out what life was really like for Chinese people in America, as you are inside the head of one. A very good book.” – Rosie, age 12