Bellwether Prize finalist
A starving panda eats a hen in order to nurse her cub in the dead of winter—there begins the perilous adventure of Gu Bao, a girl who grows up under the Chinese government’s one-child policy. Bao falls in love with a handsome soldier during the tumultuous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The demonstrations transfix her fellow students and kill one of her friends. Bao finds herself pregnant and faces the end of her academic career. Her grieving parents arrange for a secret abortion and ship her off to her grandparents’ house in the remote countryside where she was raised.
Bao searches for her inner strength while exploring the evocative Sichuan mountain landscape. She befriends a panda mother caught in a poacher's snare, and an expectant young mother hiding from villainous one-child policy enforcers bent on giving compulsory abortions. All struggle against society to preserve the treasure of their little ones. Can Bao save a rural family from destruction, and help a giant panda along the way? She devises a daring plan that changes the lives of everyone around her.
A deeply moving story of family, passion, and courage, Living Treasures is both a gripping page-turner and an incisive social critique, portraying a young woman’s quest for romance and justice in a rigid society. Bao, a law student, aspires to have both a career and family, but which comes first? A baby rarely arrives at a convenient time. The decision about the woman’s body is not an easy choice but rather a compromise that comes with a dear price. Bao’s struggle encapsulates many women’s journeys through life, as they experience the triumphs, suffer the heartbreaks, and learn to live with the consequences.
"Huang’s measured yet evocative novel heightens Bao’s journey from timid student to defiant adversary in the midst of personal and political upheaval."
YA/Mature Readers: Older teens and new adults will likely identify with Bao’s coming-of-age, despite its unique circumstances.
“This is a compelling novel exploring 1990’s China against the long shadow of the recent past through the eyes of Gu Bao, a female student. We see her as a child with her grandparents in a small village, where she witnesses a starving panda desperate to feed her cub, and later in the aftermath of the terrible events in Tiananmen Square. At its heart is the injustice of the one-child rule and the brutal corruption of officials in their determination to enforce the law. Yang Huang writes with fresh, clear simplicity, and the voice of her narrator is strong, clear and moving.”
“This skillfully written work embodies a young woman’s journey toward independence and maturity at a time when her country’s politics dictate conformity and oppression. The characters are thoughtfully well rounded, the plot lines are true to life, and the narrative focuses refreshingly on the human spirit rather than political issues. Reminiscent of Yu Hua’s To Live but with a lot less tragedy and heartbreak.”
“Huang does an admirable job balancing Bao’s individual story against the canvas of China’s evolution using crisply drawn characters who reveal their layers as the story progresses.
A knotty, engaging novel of China’s recent history.”
"The personal and the political merge in Yang Huang's debut novel about a college student in post-Cultural Revolution China. Gu Bao negotiates the shifting landscape of a country still struggling toward modernity, as China's education system, family planning policies and the deaths of her fellow students in Tiananmen Square sometimes push her to desperate measures. The story moves from city life to the rural home of Bao's grandparents, acquiring an epic feel in a compact length."
"Huang’s winning novel is more than another work of historical fiction. Living Treasures is endearing, extraordinarily moving, and its timely message about life makes it a must read for young and old readers alike."
“Living Treasures expands into a deeply human and sympathetic portrait of people living as best they can in an imperfect society.”
“Living Treasures is nothing short of spectacular; especially for readers who want a story steeped in Chinese culture, tradition, and politics but cemented by a powerful young woman who emerges as a savior to others.”
“The use of metaphor and symbolism is strong throughout the story, with many images of babies, mothers, and the visceral realities of life and survival. The theme of women’s bodies not always being their own is prominent.”
"Living Treasures is a book that breaks your heart, and then mends it with hope. Best book I've read this year."
—Jiayu Jeng, KTSF Channel 26 Talk Tonight host
"The novel is itself a treasure. . . . All of the characters are rich and complex. Huang writes in such a way that the reader sympathizes with each one. This isn't easy to do, but she's done it well. . . . The theme is love and it circles round and back to it again and again. Bravo! I recommend this to others."
—Marlene Thomasson, The Ocean Observer
"Living Treasures explores love against a backdrop of oppression in 1989 China. . . . Yang rightly keeps the plot focused on the human side of the nation-changing events taking place in the background of life-changing situations faced by the characters. . . . With the national, political, and cultural setting involved here, this would be a thought-provoking read for high school students, particularly if they are guided by a knowledgeable teacher."
—Bill Wolfe, Read Her Like an Open Book
"Living Treasure is real, stunning, heartbreaking and intense. . . . If you read one book this year, consider this one—it’s full of real, achievable, human magic—you might even learn something too."
—Jessica Highstead, Bookphile
"The novel offers an incisive fictional account of the perils of Chinese motherhood in all of its contemporary manifestations."
—Stephen Sohn, Asian American Literature Fans
"It is the story of a woman finding her footing within a changing socialist country and the universal story of women choosing their path, love, and control of life and body. I admire that you chose to write in English and did a beautiful job of writing a poignant, touching story that brings more understanding of the lives of China's people."
—Bea Dong, Eastwind Books of Berkeley
"Living Treasures is a gripping and extraordinary historical and cultural novel that declares author Yang Huang as a talented, master storyteller."
—Aditi Saha, BookStopCorner
“In the novel Living Treasures Yang Huang’s exquisite writing will engage all your senses—transporting you to China and the world of the novel’s heroine, Gu Bao, a young law student living during the time of the Tiananmen Square protests. Bao’s story is gripping and suspenseful, but Huang expertly weaves in moments of quiet, almost magical, beauty that will make you want to linger on pages even as you can’t stop turning them. Huang’s novel is a reminder of those moments in life when we have to make hard, sometimes heartbreaking, choices, and how those choices reveal who we are and what we truly believe in. Gu Bao and her courageous choices will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading—and, if you’re like me, leave you hoping for a sequel.”
—Lise Narath, Reading Connection
“This is a very well written and very touching story, about a young lady named Gu Bao who is studying to be a lawyer so she can protect people against government abuse in China. . . . Her struggle dealing with her parents over an abortion, her move to live with her grandparents for a while, and the development of a friendship with an expectant mother who is hiding in the mountains from one-child policy enforcers to safely deliver her baby, all these situations are richly described, exploiting all the psychological angles, showing the struggle in Bao's young mind to do the right thing.
I recommend this book to the permanent library of all readers who enjoy a very well written work of fiction, on a very timely subject, that will keep them entertained for hours.”
—Roberto Mattos, Books and Movies: Reviews
“I feel like I have unearthed another hidden gem. . . . Yang Huang has written a smooth and flowing work of art through words that showcase the inner turmoil of the characters. The vivid scenes that are described transport the reader from their reading chair to the magic and beauty of a country torn apart by corruption and the lust for power.”
—Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender
“Yang Huang has written a wonderful first novel. Bao is a complex and appealing character whose harrowing journey through 1989 rural China is told in quietly poetic language that illuminates and reveals. I did not want this book to end.”
—Elizabeth Graver, author of The End of the Point
“Living Treasures is a treasure. Sensual, brave and relevant, the book takes you to a place in China that few of us have ever experienced. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Patricia Harman, author of The Midwife of Hope River
“Like a young Alice Munro, Yang Huang—authoritative, compassionate, and witty—has a gift for creating characters whose actions, for good or evil, can take even themselves by surprise. Living Treasures is a suspenseful, soul-satisfying novel by an impeccable storyteller. I eagerly await her next book.”
—Elizabeth Evans, author of Carter Clay
“This is the beautiful and unique coming of age story of a young woman at a moment of history in which her personal journey flows together with that of her generation, a journey of self-determination.”
—C.E. Poverman, author of Love by Drowning
“Yang Huang is a born storyteller. Her luminous tale of one woman’s struggles with love, cultural repression and the forces of nature is also the greater story of a country on the brink of transformation.”
—Clare Willis, author of Once Bitten
“Living Treasures is a poignant and fascinating exploration of how we shape and are shaped by the events and environments that choose us.”
—Amy Glynn, author of A Modern Herbal
“Living Treasures paints a lyrical and compelling picture of a young woman’s tumultuous journey from the remote mountains of Sichuan province to the barricades of Tiananmen Square and back again, putting her own life on the line to challenge China’s one-child policy.”
—John Byrne Barry, author of Bones in the Wash