Review: Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See


I loved Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy so I was very excited to find her newest book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. I listened to the book on my commute.

The Story

Li-yan is a member of an ethnic minority in modern day China. The story begins before Tiananmen Square and before the official push for Chinese to become rich. It is also about the time that foreign families began adopting Chinese orphans–mostly unwanted daughters. Li-yan’s ethnic group has strong beliefs and one is in “human rejects”–twins, children born out-of-marriage and children with disabilities are all left to die or are simply killed outright at birth. Li-yan defies tradition in a few important ways and one is to abandon her newborn daughter to an orphanage.

The book follows the lives of boy Li-yan and her abandoned daughter who grows up in a wealthy California family as Haley.

The Good

If you loved anthropology in college then you’ll love most of this book. It goes into extreme detail on the Akha people, their traditional way of life, beliefs and, courting and marriage customs.

If you are interested in tea, this is also your book. Seemingly no aspect of tea growing or processing is left un-discussed by the story for Li-yan’s family grows tea and tea is what makes the story.

Haley’s adoptive parents do seek therapy for her to help her adjust even though she was an infant when she was adopted. They recognize that adoption starts with loss. That’s good. They also do all the things parents do to try to maintain the child’s links with his or her “birth” culture.  And, Haley gets a fabulously expensive education and trips to China–first when she is 17 and again her senior year at Stanford.

I loved the story of Li-yan meeting a successful, single businessman. That was so sweet. I also loved the “eavesdropping” on Haley’s group therapy.

It was good enough that I kept listening though, especially in the later parts of the book.

The Bad

UGH. Why all the discussion of how people have sex? If I’d read the phrase “doing the intercourse” or just “the intercourse” ONE. MORE. TIME. I’d have given up on this book. Please–we get it! The whole world does it. Cole Porter wrote a song about it for goodness sake! And it’s even all the way back in the Old Testament. That got really, really, really, really OLD. If they didn’t have sex, they’d die out. We get it already.

The cultural anthropology and tea production “lectures” were about as interesting as the average textbook. They also made for a lot of very stilted conversation which is a huge drag. I thought this could have been better handled with a long chapter-starting quote on some aspect of tea production or Akha culture and then they could have just shut up about the intercourse and drank the damned tea and talked about something else like normal people. You know, like, “Say Dad, have you checked the tea prices yet this morning?”  But no! “No Girl [what Li-Yan is called in the family] I was too busy doing the intercourse and making sure first, second, and third brother were doing the intercourse. UGH. lol No wonder Li-yan got out! LOL. [Yes, I’m using text-speak so you know I’m joking.]

While all of Lisa See’s story’s have amazing coincidences or really unlikely happenings, this one really outdid the others. But, like someone once said about James Bond movies, “put your brains under the seat and don’t ask too many questions.” It is a compelling story in spite of my personal dislikes of certain aspects.

And why in novels do the buildings containing records always burn down? And do Chinese orphanages really keep things the kids came into the system with?


3.5 stars

I will, of course, continue to read Lisa See’s books (or listen to them), but this one was almost thrown back. The later part of the book was  much better, but then came the ending. Oh well…..  Like Anita Shreve’s newest book [review] it was as though Lisa See just said “Oh what the heck….” and ended it. Very cliched and very unlikely.

I felt Shanghai Girls and  Dreams of Joy were much better.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Book Club Bonus


Author Lisa See’s website offers Book Club Tea Tasting packages for only $25. The kit includes:

Included in this tea tasting kit are:
• 3 premium pu-erh teas
• 2 miniature tea cakes
• brewing instructions
• a discussion guide
• background information on each tea


I’ve never seen a tea cake, so I’d be especially interested in this tasting. Too bad I’m not in a book club though!

Video–the book’s inspiration

Author Lisa See discusses her inspiration for the book.


10 thoughts on “Review: Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

  1. I’m not terribly fond of Lisa See. I think her best is The Secret Fan book. At least, I remember it as the best when I read it many years ago. I read Shanghai Girls last year for book club, and, blah, it did not let me any desire to read the sequel. She abuses sentences. In Shanghai Girl it was the ‘married thing’, ha ha ha. I find her cliche, predictable, and I find myself reading fast to just know what happens next, but her books (with the exception of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which has stayed with me) are not memorable.
    A 3.5 stars from you I take it as a book I don’t need to read, ha ha ha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha “the married thing.” I remember “doing the husband-wife thing,” but I don’t think it was as overused, or over-mentioned, as in this one. She’s a good commuting author–compelling story for my drive each day. Like with this one, certain parts of the books were very good and memorable, but the rest….blahblahblahblahblah. But I admire people who can spin stories so …. [i.e. keeping up on very successful authors] 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was that, the husband-wife thing. To me it was overused, so that means this book would have made me tweak.
        I agree with you, she’s good at telling stories, a good commuting author, ha ha ha. I group her with Amy Tan for some reason. And her Joy Luck Club was a fine story too.


  2. I read the book earlier this year and enjoyed the read. I totally missed out the ‘intercourse’ being mentioned alot. And now I am surprised how I overlooked it since you have pointed out that it is repeatedly mentioned. Or maybe I muted it in my brains since it was mentioned so often

    Liked by 1 person

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