Jing-mei, or June, has a complicated relationship with her mother, Suyuan. Especially as a child, June was painfully aware that she could not achieve enough to meet her mother’s very high expectations. Suyuan seemed to think it was reasonable that her daughter would be a prodigy—for instance, in playing the piano—and that hard work would be the key to success regardless of innate talent. She labored under the guilt of disappointing her mother because she knew that her ambitions also reflected pride in her child. June often felt that Suyuan was treating her more like an abstraction of a daughter than as a real person. When she rejected piano, she also rejected this obsessive molding of her into someone she was not. Although standing up for herself was an important step in her own personal growth, it did not remove the guilt she felt over being less than the perfect daughter.
As a child, June did not understand that her mother could be feeling guilty herself, much less that she was harboring a dark secret. When she learned that Suyuan had had other daughters, whom she had to leave behind in China, June was overwhelmed at the magnitude of her mother’s sacrifice. Sadly, by the time June travels to China and meets her half-sisters, their mother has already passed away.