The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (YA) by Moore & Merrill

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Book Review of The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (YA Version) by Heather B. Moore and Allison Hong Merrill

When I first read The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore, I had never heard of paper daughters or of Dolly Cameron. I had NO idea that this was a problem so many years ago. I loved the book, but it was a heavy read. When I heard there was a YA version coming out, I was skeptical. The whole premise is much too heavy, complex, and inappropriate for younger readers. Keep reading to find out what I thought of The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (YA Version) by Heather B. Moore and Allison Hong Merrill, and if I think it’s YA approved.


Based on the true story of two friends who unite to help rescue immigrant women and girls in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1890s.

When Tai Choi leaves her home in the Zhejiang province of China, she believes it’s to visit her grandmother. But despite her mother’s opposition, her father has sold her to pay his gambling debts. Alone and afraid, Tai Choi is put on a ship headed for “Gold Mountain” (San Francisco). When she arrives, she’s forced to go by the name on her forged papers: Tien Fu Wu.

Her new life as a servant is hard. She is told to stay hidden, stay silent, and perform an endless list of chores, or she will be punished or sold again. If she is to survive, Tien Fu must persevere, and learn who to trust. Her life changes when she’s rescued by the women at the Occidental Mission Home for Girls.

When Dolly Cameron arrives in San Francisco to teach sewing at the mission home, she meets Tien Fu, who is willful, defiant, and unwilling to trust anyone. Dolly quickly learns that all the girls at the home were freed from servitude and maltreatment, and enthusiastically accepts a role in rescuing more.

Despite challenges, Dolly and Tien Fu forge a powerful friendship as they mentor and help those in the mission home and work to win the freedom of enslaved immigrant women and girls.

My Book Review:

So, what is a “paper daughter?” A “paper daughter” is a girl who is a daughter on paper only. She was most likely kidnapped or sold from her family in China, and is sent to San Francisco to work at a brothel or as a slave. The original book follows the story of Mei Lien, who is sold into a life of prostitution. Reading of the things she went through made me sick to my stomach, and it was definitely not appropriate for a YA audience.

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (YA Version) follows the story of a different paper daughter. Her name is Tien Fu Wu. She was also treated terribly, but she was sold into slavery, not prostitution. This change alone makes the story more appropriate for a YA audience. It’s still not pretty. Tien Fu Wu’s owners beat her, yelled at her, starved her, etc.

The book tells many of the same stories that were told in the original book. Dolly and her colleagues still go into some pretty sketchy situations to save girls from slavery and prostitution. The YA version does not go into great detail about these rescues, but they are included in the story. There’s a story of a girl who is arrested and kidnapped while she is in custody. The details of all these stories are not quite as graphic as they are in the original book, but the premise of everything is still the same.

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (YA Version) is well written. It is written at a YA level and is easy to read and understand. One of my favorite parts of both books are the characters. The authors make these girls and women come to life. As the reader, you feel their pain, their anxiety, their anger, and their gratitude. Each character is relatable, unique, and authentic. I just want to hug each one of them! It’s difficult to even imagine what they have gone through in their lives.

I love the cover art of this book! It captures the feeling of the book, is bright and colorful, and will capture the eye of even those young adults who judge a book by its cover. The format of the book with the font and the flourishes on the chapter heading pages all make for a beautiful book.

The cover of the book says that it’s “Adapted for young readers.” In my mind, young readers are more middle-graders, but in my opinion, this book is not appropriate for middle-graders. The whole premise of the book is too much. Some 4th-6th graders probably don’t even know what a brothel or prostitution is, and in my opinion, that’s a good thing. They don’t need to know yet.

Also, keep in mind that the story is based on true people and events. Young girls are kidnapped and sold from China and are sent to San Francisco under the guise of getting married or going to visit a relative. Instead, they are sold as slaves or are sold into prostitution. Kind women at the mission home go and rescue these girls from sketchy brothels, gambling halls, and homes. The lives of the girls and women are constantly in danger because the owners of these girls do not want to lose their property. People die trying to save these girls.

In my opinion, this book is appropriately adapted for young adult readers (13-18 years old). I would even say that if my 14 year-old reads it, I will go through and discuss it with her as she reads. There are some pretty heavy themes and events, and I’d want to be able to discuss those with her.

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown (YA Version) is such a great book, for the correct age group! It’s based on real people and events, and can be a great tool for learning about empathy, courage, patience, and helping those in need. The characters become your best friends! I learned so much about what these women went through, and my heart breaks for them. I’m grateful there were women like Dolly Cameron who could help them.

Content Rating PG-13

Content Rating: PG-13

  • Profanity: None
  • Intimacy: Moderate (There are no scenes, but some of the girls were sold into prostitution–it’s part of the premise of the story.)
  • Violence: Moderate (A few characters die, and at least one of the deaths is graphic. Girls are beaten and abused.)

Age Recommendation: YA (13-18 years old) and up


My Rating: 4/5

4 Star Review

Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.




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