Leila Leong is the central character of the novel and the person whose story is being told. She has problems in coming to terms with her identity because of her Chinese heritage, yet she lives and succeeds as a third-generation American who can speak little or no Chinese and who has no real or functional identity with her heritage. Ng develops this main character primarily by revealing Leila’s thoughts; indeed, most of her actions are of little consequence. Leila’s story is one of self-discovery, a matter of growing up as a person and growing into an awareness of the American she has been since birth.
Readers learn of Ona Leong only from the recollections of others. Ng relates on the first page of the novel that this middle sister has killed herself. Slowly, through hints, memories, and half-memories of other characters, the reasons for her actions are revealed, if not explained. Ona kills herself because she is the daughter most assimilated into American culture; she is the one who has the fewest problems as an American and, therefore, the most problems as a Chinese American. Her abortion and forbidden affair with Osvaldo, like her drug use, are only symptomatic of what is wrong with her character.
The youngest sister, Nina, tries to escape all the family’s problems by changing her geography. A job and apartment in New York accomplish this, and as a tour guide for a travel agency, she actually leads tours to China. There, she feels as...
(The entire section is 587 words.)