Sunday, December 4, 2011

261. Blood and Iron by Paul Yee

Blood and Iron: Building the Railway, Lee Heen-gwong, British Columbia, 1882 by Paul Yee (Canada) only
I Am Canada, 1882

Pages: 233
Ages: 9+
Finished: Nov. 26, 2011
First Published: Sept. 1, 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
Genre: children, historical fiction, Canadian Author
Rating: 5/5

First sentence:
March 13, 1882 [Guangdong province, China]
Why am I writing about being stupid?  To prove I am not.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Scholastic Canada.

Reason for Reading: I love the Dear Canada books and am thrilled the publisher's have come out with a similar series featuring boy protagonists.  I also just love about anything written in epistolary format and I've always wanted to read Paul Yee; I have read one of his picture books but that was many years ago and I don't remember which one at this time.

Written as a series of journal entries, this follows the story of Heen, often called Rock Brain by his father (Ba) and others.  His father comes back from one year of working in Canada on the cross-country railway, or the iron road as the Chinese workers call it.  His mother convinces him to take Heen back with him so they can make more money faster to pay off the Grandfather's gambling debt which lost the family their little rice shop.  Heen is excited but he soon learns what backbreaking and unfair working conditions he faces as a Chinese railway worker in Canada.  The Chinese were used on the Western stretch that passed through the thick forests and high mountain ranges of British Columbia.  This was dangerous, tiring, underpaid, and unappreciated work.  Not only did the Chinese face unsafe working conditions with many deaths for little pay, they also faced racist attitudes from white people in the towns and white workers who didn't want them there in the first place.

The book is extremely interesting.  We learn a lot of history about the railway, the plight of the Chinese workers, conditions of the white workers, the racial attitudes, the infighting among the Chinese themselves and what the motivations were for the Chinese to do this work when they knew there was little money in it for the work involved.  Heen is an interesting character who grows through the book and will especially appeal to boys, but I think girls will be attracted to his story as well.  The plot involves a lot of action and some minor graphic scenes that may make you squinch.  It held my attention I couldn't put the book down until I was finished.  Like the Dear Canada books, after the journal entries end we are given a rundown on what happened to the main characters, a factual "Historical Note",  then a few pages of actual photographs.  A very satisfying read.

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