White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway (Black Cat)
This incredible debut novel by Alice Greeway (which won the Orange Prize for fiction in 2006) is the story of two American sisters, Kate and Frankie, living in Hong Kong during the summer of 1967.
With their father serving as a war-photographer in nearby Vietnam, the teenage girls live with their overwhelmed and anxious mother and their Chinese "amah," Ah Bing.
The story is narrated by Kate, the younger and more thoughtful sister, and focuses on Frankie, who is as wild and beautiful as she is unstable and reckless. "This summer, the one I’m going to tell you about, is the only time that matters," a retrospective Kate states in the opening of the novel.
"It’s the time I’ll think of when I’m dying, just as another might recall a lost lover or regret a love they never had," Kate says. "For me, there is one story. It’s my sister’s — Frankie’s."
As the narrative unfolds, Kate undeniably fulfills her promise to tell a story worthy of such a proclamation. With prose that is as lyrical as it is concise, and packed with urgency, Greenway captures the complexity of the sisters’ relationship with each other and their parents, the foreign culture, and their developing sexualities.
The tension radiates at home with their mother, in their longing for their father’s attention, and on a larger scale, as Mao’s Cultural Revolution mounts.
There is a sense of fragility throughout the story, but when Kate and Frankie decide to run away from Ah Bing at the local market, the sisters experience a tragedy that changes their lives in dramatically different ways.
What qualifies this book to be included in this column is that there are two lesbian characters: a neighboring couple. It’s minor, but in my opinion, it’s enough. Trust me — you won’t regret reading this book.