4 out of 4 stars
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Five Knocks by Donna Vincent Roa is an extremely moving story about a young Chinese girl, Sya, who is adopted by an American couple living in Baltimore. The novel is built on time jumps so we get to know Sya both in middle school and post-university when she’s 25 years old. Despite growing older, one thing remains the same for Sya: her desire to find her birth parents. A victim of China’s one-child policy which prompts families to abandon or kill their children (almost all girls), Sya cannot let go of her burning motivation to discover where she comes from and who abandoned her. The desire affects her relationships with those around her, including her adoptive parents, Sam and Madeline, and her best friend, Kimmy.
Throughout her journey, Sya has to face both tragedy and disappointment, and many of the events which take place in the novel are quite unpredictable and touching. While the book description written by the author and published on many sites reveals where Sya comes from, I will leave that out of my review in case you want to be surprised when reading the book and suggest you don’t read the public description if that is the case. What I will say about the author’s choice regarding Sya’s background is that it is absolutely brilliant and makes for quite a compelling story. I will also refrain from telling you what the title means but will say that I had chills when I arrived at that part of the story. After you finish the novel, I recommend reading the author’s afterword to find out where the idea for the story came from, as it’s historically fascinating and personally moving as well.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars because I find the plot absolutely brilliant and the writing easy to follow. Aside from the plot, my favorite thing about the book is that readers get to see how the story affects more than just Sya. We get a glimpse into what it’s like for a birth mother to be forced to part with her baby, how insecurities manifest themselves in an adoptive mother when confronting the idea of discovering your child’s birth parents, and how siblings who are kept by their parents cope with the knowledge that while they were chosen, their sisters were given away. These perspectives show us multiple sides of the problematic and inhumane one-child policy.
Another aspect of the book which I very much enjoyed is Roa’s dedication to showing the evils of not only the one-child policy but of sexism as well. The novel presents China’s tradition of historically favoring males and how that has played a huge role in the one-child policy. So many baby girls have been abandoned or killed, something that is hard to fathom. Roa also does not shy away from discussing the forced abortions, sterilizations and infanticide that has plagued China ever since the restrictions placed on family planning, haunting facts often not discussed by the rest of the world.
Five Knocks is a story that needs to be read, if not for the pleasure of a phenomenal story, at least for its historical significance and truth. I always appreciate a book that approaches a difficult topic without fear of revealing the truth, and this novel does just that. Furthermore, the characters’ emotions are relatable and I’m sure any reader will be especially moved by the daughters and mothers in the story. I highly recommend the book, as it is a unique and touching story that will open your eyes to the horror of China’s one-child policy and the destruction of lives it has caused in its wake.
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