Roshen loves her world. Despite increasing involvement from the hated Chinese government, her Uyghur community continues to honor their own way of life and their Muslim faith, and Roshen is excited for what life holds for her. She will go to university, and then, at long last, she will marry Ahmed. But Roshen’s future is derailed when a Chinese official arrives with an ultimatum: either Roshen must be sent to work in a factory in China or her family must surrender their farm to the Chinese government. Although her father would do anything to save her from this work program (from which some girls never return), Roshen will not allow her family to lose their land and their livelihood. She embarks on the harrowing journey to the factory where she is forbidden to wear her headscarf or speak her language. Yet despite the oppressive rules and brutal working conditions, Roshen must find the strength in herself to lead the other Uyghur girls toward hope and survival.
This novel is a gripping glimpse into the oppression of the Uyghur people through the voice of a spirited, powerful, and complex narrator. La Valley spent time among the Uyghur people when writing, and her first hand research shows in the sensitive and well-developed portrayal of Uyghur culture. There is less nuance in the portrayal of Chinese characters–most of whom Roshen perceives as thoroughly evil–but a few Chinese characters exhibiting kindness helps round out the perspective. This realistic fiction novel is an engaging and immersive at a culture and aspect of modern world politics rarely depicted in American YA lit. I highly recommend it.