The Year of the Three Sisters

Astute Anna discovers that sisterhood really can cross continents and cultures in this heartwarming fourth book in the Anna Wang series. Patrice Barton's lively and warm illustrations bring Anna's story to life.

Author perspective

The Year of the Three Sisters is based on a lifetime of inter-cultural experiences.  When I was a child, my cousin from Hungary came to stay with us for a summer.  I remember watching him react to situations in ways that seemed strange to me.  Then, when our kids were nine, eleven, and thirteen, we took them to China for the first time so that they could meet their extended family.  At first they seemed disoriented by both linguistic and cultural differences, but by the time we left, there were tears in their eyes.  For the past twenty years, I have been teaching ESL at a local community college.  My students often suffer from culture shock as they get to know a culture that is very different from their own.  All these experiences came together in The Year of the Three Sisters.

A few years ago, my son was working with migrant youth in China.  I spent a few weeks there, getting to know as much as I could about the lives of his students.  Then I imagined how they might feel if they were to come to the United States as an exchange student.  This was the seed for The Year of the Three Sisters.


In this fourth novel of the Anna Wang series, seventh-grader Anna can hardly believe her waitress friend from China is coming to America.

Through a cultural exchange program, Anna and Andee invite Fan to live in their Cincinnati neighborhood during the school year. While there, Fan will attend Fenwick High School to learn to speak English more fluently, which can help her get a better job back in Beijing. The plan calls for Fan to live with Andee, but Anna becomes concerned that the two won’t get along, given their backgrounds. Fan lives in an alley with other migrant families who cook on electric hot plates, while Andee lives with her well-to-do family in a big house with a stove sporting six burners. Anna’s fears are realized when Andee becomes distant and seems all too relieved to leave Fan at Anna’s house for the weekends. Emphasizing that she must get good grades for her family’s sake, Fan buries herself in her studies, which doesn’t leave time for much else. The threesome’s friendship feels genuinely complicated and endearing, with communication mishaps, cultural differences, and unmet, early teen expectations. A true understanding among the three starts to grow, as Fan begins to share her migrant life in both conversation and writing. One essay and poem, in particular, that she shares with Anna are memorable.

This unique sisterhood beats with a gentle heart. (pronunciation guide) (Fiction. 8-10)

School Library Journal

Cheng, Andrea. The Year of the Three Sisters. illus. by Patrice Barton. 175p. (An Anna Wang Novel: Bk. 4). Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544344273. Gr 1-4

Anna and Andee campaign to bring their Chinese pen pal, Fan, to the U.S. on a cultural exchange program. But Anna begins to worry that Andee and Fan may be too different to get along. Cheng’s characters are just as charming as ever in this fourth series entry. Cultural details are woven skillfully throughout, while Barton’s comely illustrations add to the overall appeal. Another winner.

Common Sense Media

Parents need to know that The Year of the Three Sisters is the fourth book in a well-regarded series for young readers by Andrea Cheng (The Year of the Book). Anna's a Chinese-American seventh grader in Cincinnati, one of only a few Asians in her school. She and a friend invite a young Chinese migrant worker from Beijing to visit for a year, but cultural and class differences make adjustment difficult. Unusually thoughtful and sensitive for a book for young readers, the story addresses cross-cultural differences and issues of friendship. Young readers will relate to this well-written and meaningful story about the challenges of fitting in.


Book type: 
Chapter book
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Patrice Barton
Publication date: 
Apr 2015
Interest level: 
Junior Library Guild Selection, Apr 2015