The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane follows Li-Yan, a young woman from the Akha ethnic minority in Yunnan China. Born shortly after the cultural revolution, she comes of age as China is changing rapidly. When she becomes pregnant at 16, like so many other women in China at this time she abandons her newborn daughter at an orphanage. The story follows Li-Yan and her family in China as she gains an education and helps her community modernize while still retaining their values, and also follows her daughter, now named Haley and growing up the priveleged only daughter of wealthy white Californians.
The writing was lovely, with beautiful descriptions of the mountains and jungle of Li-Yan’s mountain. I enjoyed learning about the Akha people, who I had never heard of before, as well as learning more about pu-er, a tea I’ve enjoyed since the first time I went to China. The guilt and sorrow experienced by Li-Yan was juxtaposed with the bewilderment and pain of Haley and other adoptees. Haley’s journey to self-acceptance was beautifully delineated.
The story was at times difficult to read, in that parts of the Akha culture might seem harsh to us, while others seem wonderful. The poverty of the ethnic minorities struggling to survive or the descriptions of the orphanages were heartbreaking, but overall it is a story of hard work, perseverence and kindness.