Girls on the Line

by Jennie Liu

“‘A good job in a factory! Well done! You know, I was the one that recommended you for the position in the bathroom. But you had your own mind, huh?’ She stops at the bottom of the stairs, drops her basket, and leans against the railing to rest. ‘ I honestly didn’t expect you to get a better position. It’s not easy to go out as a ward.’ (p. 75)”

Ratings & Reviews

Book Grade: B+

Girls on the Line was absolutely riveting – I wanted to know what happened to each of these girls as they fought to survive in a world that cares more about capitolism than humanity. Yun breaks the mold of the docile and obedient factory worker and is forced to fend for herself after making decisions that endanger her fledgling profession. Luli, however, the younger of the two, is obedient and works to protect her job and her friend, knowing how precious both are.

I struggled with the decisions that some of the characters made and the manner in which the choices were often made for these young girls as the story unfolded. There were many times when I had to remind myself that there are likely girls just like Luli and Yun in China, but that only made it harder to reconcile the words on the page with the challenges facing these two. Liu does a wonderful job of writing a compelling story, but it is not a happy story by any means.

I appreciate honesty and realistic fiction, but I found these a bit hard to take at times. This seems more like an adult story written about teenage girls than a YA book for teen readers. With the references to pollution, bride smuggling, the one child policy, and more, this is an eye opening look at modern China, but it is a daunting read because of its honest depiction of the lives behind so many of the consumer goods that make our lives easier.

Movie Rating: R

As mentioned before, Girls on the Line is not a light or easy read. It is dark and at times depressing, seeing the hopelessness that so many of the young girls face on a daily basis. This rating reflects that, taking into consideration the themes that dominate the book.

Human trafficking, abortion, child abandonment, and social stigmas are all addressed openly and repeatedly. For example, Yun is often ridiculed because of her four pock marks and the fact that she is an orphan; while this is a fairly tame rejection, it paints a certain picture of modern China for the reader. Abortion is repeatedly discussed, but mentioned in a way that is typical of Chinese communism – completely void of the moral perspective and entirely indicative of population growth and the economics of giving birth in China With this in mind, though, the book would absolutely be ill-suited for younger readers or readers who have a poor grasp of modern Chinese social policies and expectations.

Would I Buy This for My Library: Probably not

While I enjoyed reading Girls on the Line, I read it with an adult perspective and some understanding of modern China’s population control policies. I recognize the complexities addressed through the actions (and inaction) of the characters, and found the story to be dark, but intriguing.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of my students would find this an appealing read. The dominantly female perspective limits the audience for this book, and the flagrant discussion of multiple challenging topics makes this a book that would be difficult to discuss as a class. While there are many redeeming qualities, I would likely keep this book in my back pocket and recommend it to students who have the maturity and cultural awareness to enjoy this book and appreciate it for its realistic portrayal of modern Chinese life, rather than purchase it and wait for the right reader to come along.

Summary:

Luli and Yun are two Chinese orphans who grew up in an orphanage known only as The Institute, and are now trying to make their way in the harsh world of factory work on their own. Girls on the Line tells the alternating perspectives of two friends battling the challenges of modern China, especially as young, un-empowered females, and what they try to do to survive.

Yun, searching for love and acceptance after years of being rejected because of a physical blemish, seeks to have fun with her new boyfriend. Soon, however, she hears rumors about his profession, and finds herself facing a challenge that will bring her full circle. Luli, having been brought to the orphanage after her grandfather became too ill to care for her, seeks to build stability so that she can have a family of her own someday, and fails to understand her friend’s impulsivity and irresponsibility.

With compelling characters and a morally complex plot, Girls on the Line raises questions about China’s position of practicality over people and rules over morality. While Liu has written a fascinating book, it is both dark and disturbing in its honest portrayal of the life of a Chinese factory girl.

Book Talk Questions:

  1. How do Yun and Luli approach work differently? How is this reflective of their personalities?
  2. Why does Yun refuse to believe the truth about Yong? What does she come to learn about Yong that clarifies his choice of career?
  3. What does Yong’s brother reveal to her regarding the gender of the baby? What does Yun do about this?
  4. The orphanage and the factory are the places that draw Yun and Luli together, but also place restrictions upon them. How are these two locations both beneficial and problematic?
  5. Look up the term hukou. What is this? How does it impact certain characters and their decisions?
  6. How does the theme of family play a role in this book? Give a concrete example from the text.

A Perfect Read for Fans Of…

  • The Winemaker’s Wife by Kristin Harmel
  • A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
  • All the Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams

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