After school finishes Shaozhen is looking forward to returning home and not thinking about books and study. He can’t begin to imagine the hardship that is approaching as the rain doesn’t fall and the drought takes hold.
Title: Shaozhen: A Novel
Series: Through My Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones
Author: Wai Chim
ISBN: 9781760113797 Language: English with Chinese keywords
Classification: Fiction based on actual events
Themes: natural disasters, droughts, community
What’s it about?
Shaozhen is not the most studious of teenagers and thus when school finishes he can think of nothing better than no books for the duration of the holidays. The holidays he planned however soon change when his mother announces that she is leaving the following day to take a job in the city with her husband. This will leave Shaozhen in the care of his grandmother who feels he has been spoiled and indulged and she’s determined that he will work…and work hard. As a farm worker Shaozhen soon realises that without rain the harvest will be ruined and without rain, and the wells and rivers all dry, it will become a fight for survival.
The fact that this is based on recent events (2014-2017 and ongoing) makes this a relevant topic – particularly for Australian readers who see drought circumstances so often. There are notes about the drought in China at the end of the book as well as a glossary of the Chinese (most likely Mandarin) terms used.
The story drags a bit once you get to about page 100 and never really picks up. Character development is lacking to fully engage the target audience.
This novel is nominated for Book Week 2018 in the category of Book of the Year: Younger Readers (Notables List). I was actually quite looking forward to reading this book. The cover is intriguing and the natural disaster element did pique my interest. At first I actually liked the character of Shaozhen – he was a kid that most readers could connect with on some level whether it be their hopes, dreams, or lack of enthusiasm for school. The problem was I couldn’t connect with the character. By page 100 I really didn’t care and had to force myself to keep reading. At times it felt the descriptive passages were too long and were holding back the story – I don’t mind description but once you’ve got the scene set and cultural understanding there – don’t keep bogging down the story with details that aren’t necessary.
If you’re looking for a book that you can make connections with Australia then this book does that with the drought. From both a historical and current view droughts will always be a part of Australian lives especially for those in rural areas who rely on agriculture for a living.
Of course this book also introduces different concepts to the reader – such as the left-behind children. With China’s one-child policy (although in rural areas this could be gotten around) parents focused on improving the prospects of the next generation. With educational expenses to meet and the issues facing those who wanted to make a living from the land – many of these parents have no choice but to leave their children with elderly relations to find work in the cities – particularly in factories. These children often go an entire year without seeing their parents. Some students may be able to make a partial connection here if a parent is a Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) worker. An extension activity could be to have students write about how they would feel about only seeing their parents once a year and why.
Overall there are concepts in the book that can be used in the classroom…so long as you can keep the attention of the class through the book.