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  • Throwaway Daughter
  • Written by Ting-Xing Ye
    Contribution by William Bell
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  • Throwaway Daughter
  • Written by Ting-Xing Ye
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  • Written by Ting-Xing Ye
    Contribution by William Bell
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Written by Ting-Xing YeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ting-Xing Ye
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List Price: $9.99


On Sale: May 14, 2010
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-385-67350-1
Published by : Seal Books Doubleday CAN Titles
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A dramatic and moving YA novel by Ting-xing Ye, the internationally acclaimed author of A Leaf in the Bitter Wind, working with her husband, William Bell, author of the award-winning novels for young adults Forbidden City, Zack, and Stones.
Throwaway Daughter tells the dramatic and moving story of Grace Dong-mei Parker, a typical Canadian teenager until the day she witnesses the Tiananmen massacre on television. Horrified, she sets out to explore her Chinese ancestry, only to discover that she was one of the thousands of infant girls abandoned in China since the introduction of the one-child policy, strictly enforced by the Communist government. But Grace was one of the lucky ones, adopted as a baby by a loving Canadian couple.

With the encouragement of her adoptive parents, she studies Chinese and travels back to China in search of her birth mother. She manages to locate the village where she was born, but at first no one is willing to help her. However, Grace never gives up and, finally, she is reunited with her birth mother, discovering through this emotional bond the truth of what happened to her almost twenty years before.



No one seemed to understand what it was like to have no real birthday. Even Blackie, our Shih-Tzu, had one, noted on the form given to me when Mom put my name down as his adoptive “parent” when I was five years old. Never mind how that affected my understanding of the word adoption. Blackie’s registration form even recorded his family history, the whole pedigree.

Lucky me. I had a made-up birthday -- December 8, 1980, the day I was found on the steps of the orphanage. I could have been weeks old or a couple of days young; I didn’t know and neither did anybody else. I might as well be a lake discovered by an explorer.

My name is Grace Dong-mei Margaret Parker, but don’t call me anything but Grace Parker, without initials. Grace is my nanna’s name, and Margaret is the first name of Grandmamma, my mother’s mother. When I came along I ended a silent battle between my two grandmothers that had smouldered ever since my sister was born. Megan was Grandmamma’s middle name, but Nanna only won a spot as my sister’s middle name, Carole. It became a bigger deal, I guess, after my mom had a hysterectomy.

My name has Chinese in it thanks to my pig-headed parents. I did everything I could to change their minds. I begged, argued, and threw tantrums. All I wanted was to have my Chinese name, Dong-mei, removed. “I promise I’ll never, ever ask for anything else,” I pleaded. But my pathetic begging failed. So I tried playing dumb and deaf, with my mother especially, refusing to respond when she called me Dong-mei. I made fun of the sound, saying “done-mine” or, once, “dung-may” because I thought it was a dirty word.

My mother applied her teacher’s patience and reasoning like sticky ointments. “It’s not just a name, Grace; it means much more. Your dad and I promised Mrs. Xia that we would bring you up in touch with your culture and your roots. The name is a good place to start.”

“I don’t know any Mrs. Whatever,” I shouted. “Why do I want their roots? I don’t want to be Chinese, and I don’t want a Chinese name.”

Finally, Mom came up with one of her “reasonable” compromises. Up ’til then, she had called me Dong-mei only at home. If I didn’t stop fussing, she said, she’d use my Chinese name outside our house as well. My resistance crumbled.

As if there wasn’t enough repeating or reusing names, my confusion deepened when my grade three teacher, Miss McKerrow, taught us a new word, junior. She used a boy’s name in my class as an example.

“Robert Smith Junior,” she said loudly before she wrote the name on the blackboard, “because Rob’s father is also called Robert.”

Rob, who always needed a haircut and smelled bad, beamed at the attention he was getting. He stood up and told the class that in his family there were three Robs and two Juniors. “My grandfather is the first Robert. My dad and I are Juniors. Whenever my grandfather stays with us there’s a mix-up.”

That evening I told my mother that I wanted to be a junior, too. I didn’t have much idea what the term meant, even after Miss McKerrow’s little lesson, but I was pretty sure I was missing out on something, and that it wasn’t fair. After the dishes were done Mom sat me down and said that only boys could be Juniors. It was a sort of tradition that boys were named after their fathers or grandfathers. It seemed to me that boys enjoyed a lot more choices than I did.

* * * * *

My parents insisted on feeding me memories of the misery in my life before I came to Canada, which, to me, was no misery at all because I didn’t remember it. They told me about my abandonment, my life in an orphanage, their journey to China to adopt me. Little by little they let the details out, as if they were rehearsing a well-directed play, every scene written with extra care and consideration.

But it was as if these tragic events had happened to someone else. I hated my parents’ narratives about a stranger, even if the stranger was me. I was sick of seeing the sacred scrap of paper on which there were some marks in faded blue ink. According to my father, it had been hidden between the layers of blankets I was wrapped in when I was found outside the orphanage.

“Dong-mei,” my mother pronounced awkwardly, pointing at the second line. “Mr. Wu says it means Winter Plum-blossom.” Her finger then moved up and she spoke again. “Chun-mei, Spring Plum-blossom, is the name of your birth mother. Mrs. Xia from the orphanage told us that.”

Since I was born in the winter, probably at the time when winter plum trees were in flower, Chun-mei must have been born in the spring. In China it was traditional to name girls after flowers, Mom went on, adding that the note must have been written and tucked into my blanket by my birth mother. “Obviously the names are very important to her or she wouldn’t have taken such a risk.”

“It’s a stupid name,” I snapped. “I don’t want to be named after some dumb flower. Why didn’t this Chun-mei keep the baby and throw away the note?”

As far as I was concerned, the note as well as my Chinese roots could wither in hell.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Ting-Xing Ye|William Bell

About Ting-Xing Ye

Ting-Xing Ye - Throwaway Daughter
Ting-Xing Ye (her surname means “Leaf”) was born in Shanghai in 1952, three years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Her mother didn’t encourage education for girls, but Ting-Xing went to school anyway and eventually to university to study English language and literature, just as China was opening up to the west. In a moment of profound irony, she was offered one of the highest placements available for an interpreter, with the hated Secret Service. But her request for a transfer back to Shanghai, where she could look after her kind great-aunt, was accepted. Working for the municipal government, she dealt with the delegations of visiting royalty, presidents and other dignitaries. She married and, a year after the introduction of the one-child-per-family rule, gave birth to a daughter. After six years, she returned to Beijing to enter an international studies program, where she met William Bell, the Canadian author and teacher, who was teaching English at the college.

Although the official policy was to distrust foreigners, “I felt safe with Bill,” she says, and a deep bond began to form between them as she finally felt safe to express her true thoughts, at first through the journal he encouraged his class to keep. When Bell returned to Canada, they began a correspondence. Ye was tired of the oppressiveness of Chinese society, the constant surveillance at work, and her loveless marriage. When a scholarship to York University (which Bell had helped fabricate) arrived, she took it.

“My freedom came with a big price… I sometimes doubt my decision.” Ye made the hardest decision of her life when she did not return to China after her studies ended in 1989. The relief of being in a free country with a secure future that she could control was tempered by the anguish of separation from her daughter Qi-Meng. Her husband cut off all contact, making it impossible for her to see her daughter for over ten years; when she realized she might never see her again, she decided to write down a record of family memories that Qi-Meng might one day read. “Even now, I question whether I was too selfish. My fear is that people will read my book and think that I sought my own freedom at the expense of my daughter.” Happily, after years of searching — during which readers wrote with offers of help — she was finally able to make contact with her daughter again. Qi-Meng is studying to be a teacher at a university in China.

William Bell, who now lives with Ye in Orillia, Ontario, encouraged Ye to turn her memories into a book. At first she thought it was too personal, and didn’t want people to think she was looking for sympathy; when she began to write, it felt as though she were reliving the worst times. However, the freedom of her new life has unleashed Ye’s creativity. As an antidote to the painful memories dredged up writing the memoir, she also began to write children’s books based on folk tales and sayings she grew up with. She has now published four books for young readers, and continues to write. The contrast with her former life in totalitarian China could not be greater. Even private diaries were regularly examined during the Cultural Revolution. “You would never write on your own because it was too dangerous.”

Most of those who have published memoirs of tumultuous times in China defected to the United States, and they are from a variety of backgrounds. Nina Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai describes the six years she spent as a political prisoner; Rae Yang’s Spider Eaters tells how her Communist intellectual parents were denounced; Zhu Xiao Di’s Thirty Years in a Red House shows how his father suffered in spite of being a high-ranking Party member. The internationally renowned Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, published in 1992, follows Jung Chang’s family from the 1870s to Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Meihong Xu’s Daughter of China also involves a cross-cultural romance, as she fell in love with a visiting American, though with less happy consequences than Ye. Finally, Jan Wong’s extraordinary Red China Blues recounts her experiences as a Canadian student and later, a journalist for the Globe and Mail, in Maoist China. All are accounts of China, yet none could have been written there.

By virtue of offering freedom of expression, the West has also inherited a wealth of fictional literature by emigrated Chinese writers. Among the most recently celebrated is the acclaimed novel Waiting by Ha Jin, set during and after the Cultural Revolution. Other authors have chosen to focus their fiction on the second-generation Chinese experience in Canada (such as Wayson Choy and Judy Fong Bates), the U.S. (such as Amy Tan) and the U.K. (Timothy Mo).

It’s interesting to consider the importance of the memoir in recent years, and its ability to transport us to other times and places. Of course there is the unforgettable Ireland of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Ernest Hillen’s story The Way of a Boy, an account of growing up in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia during the Second World War, was a bestseller in Canada and Australia. In 2000, Ken Wiwa wrote of the repressive regime in Nigeria in a book about his relationship with his executed father, In the Shadow of a Saint, and Nega Mezlekia wrote of the turbulent 1970s and ’80s in Ethiopia in Notes from a Hyena’s Belly. In an interesting twist on the theme, Jack Todd’s 2001 memoir of escaping from the U.S. during the Vietnam War, A Taste of Metal, also gives a fascinating account of being in the wrong place at wrong time and, like Ting-Xing Ye, making a life-changing decision.ecision.u9³® %#fXšq°%"˜%#fDu@

About William Bell

William Bell - Throwaway Daughter

Photo © Brendon Bell

William Bell’s young adult novels have been translated into nine languages and have won a number of awards, among them the Manitoba Readers’ Choice Award, the Mr. Christie’s Award, the Ruth Schwartz Award, and the Canadian Librarians’ Association Award. He lives in Orillia, Ontario, with author Ting-xing Ye.

  • Throwaway Daughter by Ting-xing Ye with William Bell
  • April 27, 2004
  • Juvenile Fiction
  • Seal Books
  • $9.99
  • 9780770429218

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