Honeysuckly House, by Andrea Cheng

honeysuckle houseHoneysuckle House

by Andrea Cheng

  • publisher and date: Front Street, 2004
  • genre: realistic fiction
  • age/grade:grades 3-5

Synopsis (from www.bn.com)

Alienation, longing, prejudice, and cultural difference is touched on in this immigrant story told in the voices of two ten-year-old girls. Sarah and Tina are fourth graders. The most important thing in the world to Sarah – American-born Chinese – is the recent departure of her best friend, Victoria. She misses her terribly. Tina has just recently moved to Cincinnati from Shanghai, and is trying to make sense of a whole new world – pretty much clueless to all the things Sarah is hip to.

The two girls are paired together in school, as if Asian appearance were proof of parallel lives and experience. (”I don’t speak Chinese,” Sarah keeps having to explain.) It’s the daily, common stuff of childhood intrigue that finally manages to connect their stories and forge a friendship. A whole constellation of adult concerns swirl around them – green card worries, assimilation, absent fathers, family tensions – but Andrea Cheng remains true to the heart and voice and vision of two ten-year-old girls, in a story which blends tears and games, drama and play.

Author’s Perspective: Andrea writes with a interesting perspective. She is the daughter of Hungarian immigrants. She grew up in Ohio, speaking Hungarian at home and hearing stories of the war and the holocaust. Her husband is the son of Chinese immigrants. When the met, they loved the similarities between their families. According to Cheng:

Most of my stories about Chinese and Chinese-Americans were sparked by watching our three children and by listening to stories of my husband’s parents.  For example, Goldfishand Chrysanthemums (Lee & Low, 2003) is based on a story told to me by my husband’s mother.  As a child, she used to love helping her grandfather in Suzhou tend his chrysanthemums and his fish.  I think the story that is closest to me and also involves the Chinese-American experience is Honeysuckle House (Front Street, 2004). There are two alternating narrators in the novel, Sarah and Ting.  Sarah, who is Chinese-American, is based on both of my daughters, Jane and Ann, and Ting is based on one of Jane’s friends who immigrated to the United States with her parents.  Many of the incidents in the book were observed in our own backyard, full of honeysuckle bushes. From: Papertigers.org

Literary Elements:

Character – The characters of Sarah and Ting (Tina) tell the story in alternating chapters in their first person perspective. The characters are compelling. Sarah, doesn’t want to be lumped in with Ting as Chinese. Tina also is missing her best friend who has moved away. She is tired of telling people that she doesn’t speak Chinese. Ting is in the process of learning English and a new culture. Both girls desperately want a friend. Ting and Sarah realize that they have preconceived expectations about each other based on their Chinese heritage. Throughout the story, the preconceived ideas become chipped away and a true friendship forms.

Theme – Friendship, acceptance, and the meeting of cultures are themes throughout the story.

Tone and Style– The alternating voices of the characters help to create the story.

Curriculum Connections:

  • Write a letter – In the story, Ting writes a letter to her friend in China, Mu Ying. Pretend you are Ting, and write the letter.
  • Compare and Contrast housing, transportation, food, and clothing in Shanghai and Cincinnati. (idea from: Activity Guide, Children’s Book Award Nominees 2006-2007)

Web Resources:


Publishers Weekly (from www.bn.com)

Alternating between the perspectives of two fourth-grade narrators, Cheng (Marika) proves herself a gifted and sympathetic observer of middle-graders’ conflicts and concerns. In the opening chapter, Sarah tries to make sense of the news from her best friend and next-door neighbor, Victoria, that she is moving. Victoria’s mother isn’t reliable, there’s no moving van, and Victoria doesn’t know where they’re going. But that afternoon Victoria and her mom leave, with some but not all of their things. At school Sarah feels bereaved and alarmed when Victoria’s seat gets filled by a new girl, Tina, just arrived from China. Sarah, who is Chinese-American, steels herself: “I’ll have to tell everyone all over again I don’t speak Chinese.” Tina brings her voice to the next chapter, describing her trip from Shanghai to join her parents in America. Cheng uses perceptive details to highlight the enormity of the adjustments Tina must make. Separated from her mother for more than a year, Tina almost doesn’t recognize her because her smell has changed her soft perfume has been replaced by an alien scent. “When I smelled the sharp soap,” Tina says, she finally understands why her grandmother has told her to be brave. Both Tina and Sarah must come to terms with classmates and teachers who assume that their Chinese facial features confer automatic intimacy and affection, allowing Cheng to make important points about assimilation and prejudice. Eventually, however, the mystery of Victoria’s disappearance opens a path for the two girls to channel their feelings of loss and, in the process, create a genuine friendship. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal (from www.bn.com)

Gr 3-5-The honeysuckle house (a spot under a large honeysuckle bush) is where fourth-grader Sarah, a Chinese-American girl, plays with her friend Victoria until the girl suddenly moves away. Sarah’s story is juxtaposed with her classmate Ting’s, a new immigrant from China. Told in first person in alternating chapters, the narratives balance well between large issues (like Ting’s parents’ employment and legal problems and Victoria’s abrupt departure) and more intimate ones (people assume that Sarah can speak Chinese, and Ting has to adjust to all of the new smells in America). With a smoothly drawn and interesting plot, strong characters, and graceful writing, the story has more immediacy than much realistic contemporary fiction. There are some truly memorable scenes, such as when Ting and Sarah explore Victoria’s deserted house, and when Ting breaks a vase in the house where her mother cleans. With a strong social conscience behind it as well, this absorbing novel has a lot going for it.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.


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