Title: Crystal Cove
Author: Sally Suen
Genre: Historical Fiction / Women’s Fiction / Romance
In Crystal Cove, Sally Suen shares what life was like and how the world was changing in rural China and Hong Kong in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Against this background, the reader follows the life of Lili Ling as she grows up under the care of various family members, eventually going to college and meeting American Sean Shaw. They instantly fall in love with each other, but devastating circumstances pull them apart and they must learn to continue on, wondering and hoping they might be reunited.
At its heart, Crystal Cove is both a romance and a coming-of-age story. Growing up with no mother and a distant father, Lili proves a resilient young woman who excels in school and learns to live on her own as she must quickly adapt to changes. Sally Suen does a beautiful job of diving into Lili’s emotions and inviting the reader to feel those emotions right along with her, especially when she and Shaw meet. We root for Lili and Sean because we believe their love is deep and real, even though it’s only for a couple of months. So, when the Eastern girl and the Western boy are torn away from each other due to circumstances beyond their control, we read on, hoping they will find their happily ever after.
Even in the aftermath, Lili’s character is a strong one. A formidable female lead character is what makes this novel stand out as a solid women’s fiction story. The target audience for this book would be women of all ages, especially those who enjoy a clean romance.
Reading about the cultural differences between the East and the West is eye-opening. Even in the East, the vast differences between the rural Chinese village where Lili was born, with its dirt roads and rice paddy fields, versus Hong Kong, a big, bustling city, is well researched. Readers from the West who are likely unfamiliar with many of the cultural differences, such as not showing affection publicly in the East, have an opportunity to learn while reading this novel.
While much of the novel is character-driven and dialogue-driven, there are parts, mostly in the beginning, that are heavy on summary. This story may not hook some readers immediately because of this. While the prologue tells of a tragedy that leaves the reader wondering what happens next, several chapters that follow gloss over most of Lili’s childhood, which would have been informative to read more about. Later in the novel, there are other sections that feel rushed or summarized, which, again, could have been fleshed out. As Crystal Cove is only 63,000 words, it could easily have been longer and therefore an even richer experience.
Crystal Cove is a story of perseverance through struggling times in a changing world. Sally Suen has crafted a strong female lead whose tale of love will remain with the reader long after the book is finished. This easy-to-read romance is a good book for an afternoon escape or a day at the beach, a beach like Crystal Cove.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars