Fire Horse Girl

Fire Horse Girl

Small village, small minds, convinced that Jade Moon’s Fire Horse birth sign will curse anyone foolish enough to marry her. She will have to travel far from this small Chinese village to escape this bad luck, perhaps all the way to America, like her uncle.

But Uncle died coming back from the “Gold Mountain” says Sterling Promise, his adoptive son, Now Jade Moon’s father must pretend to be his brother, using Uncle’s identity papers so they can both enter the USA to pursue the family’s business interests, and they decide to take Jade Moon along to remove her curse from the family lands.

Up the river to the noisy bustle of Hong Kong, across the wide ocean by crowded steamship, Jade Moon and Father are coached by Sterling Promise in their ‘improved’ family history so that their answers will match when interrogated by the immigration officials. Only relatives with real business are allowed into the USA from China, though many others try to enter.

The shores of America look beautiful, but the Angel Island center is ugly. After weeks of waiting, Father fails the questioning intentionally, so Jade Moon is sure they all will be returned to China. However, clever Sterling Promise has bribed someone and will leave Angel Island on the next boat. Jade Moon’s desperation to escape the weight of village condemnation outweighs her fears as she cuts off her hair, locates Sterling Promise’s identity papers, dons his American suit and boards the boat to San Francisco.

Lost in the city, she’s almost caught up in a street fight, but is rescued by Harry Hon, whose father controls one of Chinatown’s ‘protection associations’ and is recruiting muscle and fists for the tong. She winds up staying at Mr. Hon’s home, being called Fire Horse, learning how to fight, helping Harry as numbers runner. Trying to ignore the dark sides of the Hon business becomes impossible when she discovers that a friend from Angel Island will be sold into prostitution and finds a way to help her keep her out of their reach.

Will the tong uncover her involvement in the escape?

How can she keep her identity secret when Sterling Promise appears?

Can this Fire Horse overcome old beliefs to find freedom in a new land?

Set in the waning days of the tongs’ power in Chinatown, this story of Jade Moon’s quest for a new life follows the twists and turns caused by her outspoken comments and daring choices.

336 pages                              978-0545403108                              Ages 12 and up

Keywords:  immigrants, immigration, Asian culture, Chinatown, Angel Island, China, family, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old

Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA – blogging young adult books beyond the bestsellers at


“I was not ignorant of how ridiculous I seemed to people. My feet wandered the village with little purpose other than my own pleasure, my mind constructed ideas that no one seemed to understand, and my heart held hopes that were far beyond my reach. But I could not help my thoughts or my dreams. I watched the wind lead the leaves in a dance, and I wondered if any of them ever wished they could find their own steps.”

One might well imagine these thoughts and dreams belonging to one of those restless American kids who gratefully found their way from Middle America to San Francisco in the sixties. But guess again. Jade Moon is a Chinese teen who was born back in 1906 which, according to Chinese astrology, makes her a fire horse. The word is that girls born in a Year of the Horse are bad enough – they are known for being tempestuous, stubborn, and selfish – but girls born in a Fire/Horse year (which happens once every sixty years) are reputed to be a particularly dangerous breed.

Now seventeen, Jade Moon began building her bad luck reputation as a fire horse girl back at the moment she took her very first breath – which came at the same time that the mother birthing her was drawing her own last breath. The little Chinese village in which Jade Moon has since grown up with her father and grandfather has been far too small for all of her questions and attitudes, along with her current disdain over possibly being married off to the village bricklayer.

But, fortunately, out of nowhere appears the good-looking adopted son of the paternal uncle she never knew she had – actually, the now-deceased paternal uncle she never knew she had. And he, her adopted cousin Sterling Promise, has absconded with legal papers from his late adoptive father that can theoretically be used for Jade Moon’s father to get into the United States (if he assumes his dead brother’s identity). He – Jade Moon’s dad – reluctantly works out a deal with Sterling Promise in which the three of them are going to travel from Hong Kong to San Francisco and live in America – if they can all get their stories straight and make it through the line of legal roadblocks erected against Chinese immigrants in those days. Throw in an ocean crossing, an extended stint under guard on Angel Island, and a triple-dose of betrayal, and you have the tale of one spirited girl clawing her way to a new life in America.

“The guard jerked his arm away from Sterling Promise and pointed to the barracks. Sterling Promise shook his head and continued to dig in his bag. I had never seen him so angry. I had finally knocked off the polish that coated his actions. It did not feel as good as I imagined it would. “The guards grabbed Sterling Promise and started to drag him down the path. Suddenly, he stopped fighting with them. When his arm fell to his side, it was clutching the clothes I had left in his bag. “Maybe now he understood.”

So begins Jade Moon’s dizzying and dangerous romp through the alleyways and organized crime venues of 1920s San Francisco Chinatown – disguised as a young man. I’ve always gotten a thrill out of wandering around S.F. Chinatown – gazing up at the apartments above the busy streets and down the alleyways leading in and out of those streets. It remains for me a place of mystery and imagination. This story for middle school audiences – part thriller, part dark history, part cute romance – provides quite a taste of those streets (and what lay behind them) nearly one hundred years ago.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS Richie's Picks _http://richiespicks.com_ (

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