Honeysuckle House

"The class is so quiet you can hear Tina's hard shoe soles on the floor. Everyone is watching us. Sisters, they are thinking."

Ten-year-old Sarah misses her best friend and neighbor, Victoria, terribly. She still waits for her in the backyard just in case she comes back. The last thing Sarah needs is to be paired with the new girl at school, Tina, who has just arrived from China. Sarah is used to being confused with other Asian students at school, but she doesn't want people to assume that she and Tina have a lot in common. In fact, even simple communication is hard for them: Tina's English is poor, and Sarah doesn't speak a word of Chinese. Thrown together amidst a swirl of problems at home and at school, Sarah and Tina are reluctant to forge a friendship. But both of them must come to terms with the changes in their lives—whether they are able to overcome their differences or not.

Andrea Cheng has remained true to the hearts and voices of two ten-year-old girls in this moving story about friendship.

Told in alternating stories and in the innocent voices of two ten year old girls, Honeysuckle House addresses alienation, longing, prejudice, and cultural differences without ever losing touch with the true preoccupations of childhood.

Through the honeysuckle branches I watch Victoria carry an armload of clothes out to the car. A pair of shorts falls onto the ground, and when she picks it up, she drops a sock. Her mother carries a lamp without a shade. Victoria gets into the back seat with the clothes and the lamp. Her mother is about to start the car. Then she goes back into the house and comes out with one of the kittens and a black dress on a hanger. She hands Victoria the kitten through the open car window and goes around the car to the driver's side. Could they really be about to move? Victoria looks my way. I run out of the honeysuckle house just as the car starts.
Author perspective

I wrote two stories. One was about my younger daughter and how sad she was when her friend Victoria left. The other was about my older daughter's friend who came from China. My editor suggested combining the stories, and that's how Honeysuckle House came to be written from two points of view. This novel touches on many issues that are close to me because my children have experienced them, including subtle and not so subtle racism.

School Library Journal (starred)

Grade 3-5–The honeysuckle house (a spot under a large honeysuckle bush) is where fourth-grader Sarah, a Chinese-American girl, plays with her friend Victoria until the girl suddenly moves away. Sarah's story is juxtaposed with her classmate Ting's, a new immigrant from China. Told in first person in alternating chapters, the narratives balance well between large issues (like Ting's parents' employment and legal problems and Victoria's abrupt departure) and more intimate ones (people assume that Sarah can speak Chinese, and Ting has to adjust to all of the new smells in America). With a smoothly drawn and interesting plot, strong characters, and graceful writing, the story has more immediacy than much realistic contemporary fiction. There are some truly memorable scenes, such as when Ting and Sarah explore Victoria's deserted house, and when Ting breaks a vase in the house where her mother cleans. With a strong social conscience behind it as well, this absorbing novel has a lot going for it.

–Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Gr. 4-7. Born in Cincinnati, Sarah, 10, is Chinese American, but she doesn't speak Chinese and doesn't want to. She's furious when the teacher expects her to take care of the new kid, Ting, who has just arrived from Shanghai. Ting, who does know a little English, wishes she were back home, far from people who mock her accent and appearance. Told in the girls' alternating voices, this novel is certainly a friendship story, but it moves beyond the usual immigration-assimilation scenario to show the cultural differences across generations and inside families. Ting's dad, desperate for his green card, hates needing Ting's help ("Just because you know English, do you think you know more than your father?"), and the parents' tensions are always on the edge of each girl's personal conflict. Although there's no neat resolution, the girls do become friends, and Sarah enjoys learning some Chinese, even as she chops off her long, straight black hair. Many readers, and not only new immigrants, will recognize the truth about how hard it is to fit in. Hazel Rochman Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Voice of Youth Advocate (VOYA)

"Books for those frequently overlooked intermediate grade girls are rare, especially one as poignant as this slim novel. Cheng seamlessly blends the stories of the lives of these three young girls, their sorrows and secrets, their joys and fears, and their families and friends. The author is careful not to wrap up all of the girls' problems in a nice neat package at the end of this story. Instead reader will find that more time is needed to complete the new friendship; to cement new relationships among family members. This realistic take on pre pubescence is refreshing. Girls looking for stories about school and friendship and family will be thrilled to discover this book."

Book type: 
Middle grade novel
Front Street
Publication date: 
May 2004
Interest level: 
Parents' Choice Recommended Title, May 2004
Library Media Connection Recommended Title, May 2004