A multi-cultural adoption inspires a debut YA novel
By Guest Blogger on January 25th, 2013
Lovingly researched, The Fire Horse Girl by YA debut author Kay Honeyman brings to life 1923 China and San Francisco, and the extraordinary adventure of a fiercely independent 17-year old girl, Jade Moon. Booklist raved in a starred review,“First-time author Honeyman has researched the history of Angel Island and early twentieth century San Francisco carefully, yet the ultimate strength of this story is in her character Jade Moon. Her voice, authentic and consistent, transcends this historical fiction/adventure/love story to embrace every young woman who has ever searched for the real person hidden under the veneer of society’s expectations.” In a very special OOM post, Kay talks about what inspired her to write The Fire Horse Girl. Take it away, Kay!
I love stories – the way they wrap around you, drawing you into their universes. I love the way they open our hearts to more possibilities. Most of all, I love the way they stretch and shift my view of myself and my world – sometimes slightly, sometimes dramatically. Stories of young heroes — like Scout Finch or Anne Frank or Harry Potter — affect me the most because these characters seem to stretch their dreams and hopes far beyond their reach. I guess it is no surprise that when I went through the process of adopting my children from China, I found comfort in my own story of dreams, hopes, and determination.
I fell in love with our son Jack the first moment I saw him. “He is perfect,” I thought, like mothers all over the world who see their child for the first time, but I didn’t know how perfect he was until I started looking over the basic information about his health, mental, and physical development. It wasn’t his medical records or the fact that he could stack blocks and was fond of playing games. It was one small box that was checked — obstinate. Yes, my child definitely needed to be a little obstinate.
You see, we were adopting Jack from an orphanage in Guangzhou, China. He was going to be uprooted and taken by strangers to a new country. He was going to have to learn a new language and get used to new routines like sleeping in a room by himself and riding in a car seat. He was going to be the only immigrant in his class, the only Chinese student at his school, and (until last November when we went to get his new sister) the only adopted child in our family.
His strength and spirit are what led me to write my novel The Fire Horse Girl — the story of seventeen-year-old Jade Moon’s journey from China, to the United States in 1923. The stubbornness and willfulness that are characteristic of the Fire Horse sign in the Chinese zodiac — the very stubbornness and willfulness that doom Jade Moon in her small town in China — give her the strength she needs to travel to America. Once she arrives, she endures the trials of Angel Island, survives the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and finds herself and her story.
Jack does not have as much outward conflict as Jade Moon, but I know there are moments when he feels trapped between his past and his present, between one identity and another. He went through a stage when he wanted to know where everyone was born — friends, neighbors, strangers in the grocery store. He was a little distressed that we all seemed to be born in Texas while, for some inexplicable reason, he was born in China.
Jack, like Jade Moon, is always going to carry with him both his Chinese heritage and his American life. He says “bear” like a true Texan, drawing it out over two syllables. He wears his cowboy hat and Wranglers while slurping on a bowlful of noodles. Jack has his well-worn cowboy boots planted firmly on his own unique path. His obstinacy should help.
In The Fire Horse Girl, Jade Moon says, “It is a little bit of a love story, coming to this country.” It certainly was a love story for my family, bringing Jack to America. It was a love story for him too — finally finding a family of his own. But love takes strength and commitment. It takes a determined belief that those first steps down unfamiliar trails, even if they are difficult, will not lead you astray.
Last year when we got a picture of a beautiful little girl who I knew was the perfect addition to our family, I looked for the description of her personality, and there it was…obstinate.
Kay Honeyman became fascinated with the history of Chinese immigration to the United States after she and her husband adopted a son from China in 2009. An eighth grade English teacher, The Fire Horse Girl is her first novel. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family and you can find her online at www.kayhoneyman.com.
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