Turns out I am very bad about learning much about the book I am going to read. There have been two books so far this year that I assumed would be novels, only to learn a handful of pages in that they were in fact nonfiction. Then there’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, which I thought would be nonfiction and was, go figure, a novel. In my defense, it was one of two books recommended simultaneously by my mother and the other, Killers of the Flower Moon, IS nonfiction and ALSO has an orange cover.
All this to say: this is a novel. You will learn a lot of (I assume) facts about tea, which is a nice side benefit. The writing itself is fine (not amazingly inspired, but also not bad or boring), there are twists I did not see coming (the tiger!) and twists I did (the end). See does start us off with the admonition, “No coincidence, no story,” which is a nice nod to the deus ex machina omnipresent in novels. I did appreciate learning about one of the non-Han ethnic minorities in China. I liked the serpentine quality of the story, how it kept coming back to itself.
The story itself is about a woman named Li-yan, born into the Akha minority of hill people in southern China. They grow and harvest tea and have very strict traditions. Li-yan runs afoul of those traditions but is largely able to hide that and carry on with her life, especially as she leverages herself into an education. So Hummingbird Lane is about Li-yan and the life she leads and the life she leaves behind – and lots and lots of tea.