Luck of the Titanic

Putnam. May 2021. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781524740986.
Gr 6 Up–Lee’s revelatory novel uncovers the tale of eight Chinese passengers braving shipwreck through the travails of a resourceful heroine. Valora Luck is in line for the RMS Titanic when she discovers that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 will bar her from entering the United States, where she dreams of becoming a circus acrobat. But Valora needs to get on the ship for another reason—she’s desperate to find her sailor brother, Jamie. After smuggling herself onboard, Valora disguises herself as a veiled widow and gains access to a first-class cabin. Valora’s need to pass as a first-class, white English lady vies with her desire to rejoin her brother and his band of Chinese British sailors. She also craves the chance to showcase her acrobatic talent while navigating a ship’s geography defined by class, gender, immigration status, and race. Excitement abounds long before the Titanic hits an iceberg, and the twist ending aligns with the historical record. While the stakes of Valora’s quest are high, they don’t detract from the joy of reading Lee’s complex depiction of identity. Valora and Jamie are London-born children of a Chinese father and a Cockney mother, who switch fluidly between English and Cantonese. Through Jamie’s Chinese crew, Lee depicts a nuanced spectrum of bilingualism and cultural hybridity.
VERDICT With a compassionate, strong heroine and a diverse cast, this is an exciting, important retelling of the Titanic tragedy.

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