Library Journal loves The Celestials

Industrialist Calvin Sampson is running a successful shoe factory in North Adams, MA, in 1870 but is troubled by union demands. To break a strike, he takes the unusual step of importing new workers from San Francisco—young Chinese men, most of them teenagers. Thus begins North Adams’s decade-long experiment with the Celestials, as the workers are called, since China was then known as the Celestial Kingdom. The strikers notwithstanding, most citizens of North Adams accept the strange boys, and many women volunteer to teach them English, leading to some close friendships. When Sampson’s wife, Julia, returns to town with a mixed-race infant after months away, cracks appear in relationships, not only between Sampson and Julia and among the community, but also among the Chinese workers themselves.

VERDICT Based on true events meticulously researched by Shepard (Don’t I Know You?; The Bad Boy’s Wife), this compelling and elegantly written literary historical novel transports the reader to 19th-century industrial New England. It should appeal particularly to readers of Chinese American–themed literature.

Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT