A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
"Once upon a time, the Goddess of Heaven, furious her daughter had fallen for a lowly cowherd, gouged out a river of stars with her hairpin. She stranded the lovers on opposite shores. Each year, on the seventh day of the seventh month, she relented, allowing the magpies to bridge the sky and reunite them. Love lost, then found, again and again. Now the legend, held another meaning for Scarlett: a mother's forgiveness. In the story she would tell Liberty, not even the Goddess of Heaven could undo the past, but she'd commanded the magpies to complete her daughter's heart, by conjuring a flock that spanned the universe."
I am always on the hunt to discover new female voices in the literary world and Vanessa Hua is an author that I think we will all enjoy reading for many years to come. I am very thankful to the team at Ballantine Books for sending an advanced copy of her debut my way because I absolutely loved it. Along with the arc was a letter from Vanessa herself that told how she began writing this book when she was pregnant with twin sons. The book was inspired by her hearing about "secret maternity centers that housed pregnant women from China. The mothers-to-be intended to give birth here, granting their babies U.S. citizenship." She wondered "who were these women and what was it like to be so far from home during the most vulnerable time in their life? What would a child with U.S. citizenship mean to them?" Vanessa is the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, and she wrote how she is always "trying to shine a light onto untold stories, in fiction and in journalism." I had never head of these maternity centers and I was intrigued. So, after reading her letter, I moved this book to the top of my TBR and settled in with it. I am not ashamed to tell you I read it cover to cover in one night.
The book focuses on Scarlett who has found herself pregnant with her married boss's child. Thinking that Scarlett will finally give him the son he has so desperately wanted, he arranges to have her fly over to the US on a travel visa and live in a "maternity center". I went down the google rabbit hole after I finished this book and found several articles about raids conducted on these "luxury birthing centers" that are secretly located all over the United States. Handlers are paid between $40,000 and $80,000 to advise the women on obtaining visas, flying through the least suspicious airports and even disguising their pregnancies, so I learned a lot about a subject that I did not even know existed.
This is where we find Scarlett in the opening chapter. She has arrived here in America and receives some surprising news after checking in to her "birthing center" and seeing her new doctor. She makes the decision to run away from the center and try to make a life on her own. What follows is a powerful commentary about immigration, the depths of a mother's love, and the tenacity it takes to make it in a country where you can not speak the language, have no source of income or way to support yourself or your child. I loved Scarlett's character. As a mother I completely understood her drive to provide for her child and and do whatever it took to get her baby's needs met. Through sheer force of will she determined to claim a piece of the American dream and the ups and downs that it took to make that a reality for her is a story I will not soon forget.
Thank you so much to Random House and Ballantine Books for sending me an advanced copy of this incredible debut in exchange for my honest review. 5 stars.