Narrated by a smart, clear-sighted and tremendously likable protagonist, Prairie Lotus is a richly layered work of historical fiction set in a landscape that will be familiar to Little House on the Prairie readers.
After her Chinese-Korean mother's death, 14-year-old Hanna and her white father make their way east from California, landing in LaForge, a bustling frontier town in the Dakota Territory. Their plan is to open a dry-goods or tailoring business, though Hanna's dream is to have a dressmaking shop. But first they have to take the measure of LaForge. It's 1880 and many of the town's citizens have never seen a nonwhite person--that is, other than the Ihanktonwan tribal members from whom they appropriated the land. Hanna worries that they won't accept her, a "half-Chinese" girl.
Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books should appreciate Hanna's homesteading chores (sieving the flour for weevils and pantry moths, conjuring "delicious soups from nothing but scraps and bones") and similar details. Prairie Lotus is more than a simple spin-off of a beloved classic, though. As a child, Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park (A Single Shard; A Long Walk to Water; Gondra's Treasure), the daughter of Korean immigrants, created her own Little House scenarios, which she calls a "pre-internet version of fan fiction." Although Park's research uncovered that the Chinese population was growing during the time of Wilder's stories, Koreans hadn't yet immigrated to the U.S. Hanna is Park's way of inserting herself into the stories. She is a character firmly entrenched in her time who also confronts the inherent racism and sexism of the 19th-century west. As one can expect from Park, Prairie Lotus's gorgeous, fluid storytelling carries the reader along swiftly to a satisfying conclusion. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor