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The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane Bets On...

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

March 2017

Years ago, I read Lisa See’s SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN and remember racing to my computer to google the Chinese art of foot binding. As I read THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE, I found myself doing a search about tea trees and tea leaves, particularly those of the Pu’erh tea, which is explored in this book. Confession: I have never given much thought to tea leaves. Seriously. I never thought about how they were grown or harvested. And I had no idea that there are tea auctions where these leaves are sold for wild sums of money. There is something wonderful about a book that not only makes you enjoy the story, but that you walk away from having learned something new.

THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE opens in the late 1980s in a remote place in Asia, the Spring Well Village, home of the minority hill people of the Akha tribe. When reading the opening pages, the villagers’ lives are so primitive that it’s hard to believe this was just 30 years ago; it feels like they are living a century ago. There is one birth custom that is described at the beginning that feels barbaric to ponder. Their income is derived from tea groves that have been with the tribe for generations.

Li-yan is the daughter of the tribe’s midwife, training to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She is wildly smart, a star at the local school, and it is recommended that she pursue further education. She is called in to speak with traders as they come to town, and she keeps the secret of the ancient trees hidden. At the same time, she has fallen for a boy, the class imp who everyone has cautioned her against. She finds herself pregnant and husbandless as the boy she loves has moved to Thailand. She flees the village, gives birth outside her town, and drops her child at an orphanage that harbors abandoned baby girls, tucking a Pu’erh tea cake with the baby.

The baby is adopted by an American couple from California, one of the many families who trekked abroad to create their families, and the baby becomes Haley Davis. Lisa was inspired to write this book after one day seeing a young Chinese girl with a black ponytail walking between two Caucasian parents. She wondered what it must be like to think about how you were precious and special enough to complete this couple’s family, while at the same time you were thought not precious enough for your own mother to hold onto. During her research, she interviewed many of these girls and their parents, as well as women who had let their daughters go.

I will leave you to explore what happens to Li-yan and Haley for yourself. This book is perfect for book group discussion. There is so much to talk about. And Lisa has made a connection with a tea distributor that gives readers the opportunity to sample Pu’erh tea. You can find out more about that here, and Lisa shares background research on the writing of the book on her website,, including photos from her research trips there.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See

  • Publication Date: April 3, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1501154834
  • ISBN-13: 9781501154836