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Review: The Fire Horse Girl (Honeyman)

AUTHOR: Kay Honeyman
SERIES: none
PUBLISHER: Arthur A. Levine
PUBLICATION DATE: January 1, 2013
ISBN: 9780545403108
PAGES: 336
SOURCE: public library
GENRE: historical fiction

SUMMARY: As a Chinese girl born in the year of the Fire Horse, Jade Moon is considered unlucky, stubborn, and way too outspoken. When she gets an opportunity to travel to America with her father and a young man named Sterling Promise, Jade Moon knows that her dreams and her future lie in America. But America in 1923 is a hostile place for Chinese immigrants. Jade Moon is detained on Angel Island and treated as a prisoner. In order to get to America and find her way, Jade Moon will need all the strength of a Fire Horse.

WHAT I LIKED: The history. Life as an immigrant is never easy, and The Fire Horse Girl does a great job making the reader feel the pain and maltreatment of Chinese immigrants during the 1920s. I loved the inclusion of the Angel Island poetry.

Jade Moon and Sterling Promise. I love that you could always count on Jade Moon to find trouble and Sterling Promise to be slick. Though they argue all the time, they make a great pair. I really loved Jade Moon’s stubbornness and survival instinct. That girl has some serious guts! Though she is terrified, Jade Moon does what she needs to do to survive. She frequently puts herself in danger to help others, which is admirable also. Readers will cringe as she does it time and again, even as they know this clever and resourceful girl will always figure her way out.

It’s just a great story. I read maybe one historical fiction book a year, no joke. It’s just not a genre that I love. However, this story quickly swept me up. Jade Moon has more–ahem–balls than any male character in the story; she is so brave and smart, and I just loved her. I actually gasped out loud in a couple of very intense parts. Another part had me muttering an expletive aloud while I was reading it at lunch. I was that wrapped up.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: Maybe a little overlong. Details are important in this story, and Honeyman takes her time recreating Jade Moon’s life in China, on Angel Island, and in San Francisco. There is plenty of action (sometimes heart-pounding!), but some readers may find the details cumbersome.

I also had a hard time believing that all those people didn’t ever notice Jade Moon is actually a girl. Women’s facial structures are very different from men’s, and I would think this would be especially true with Asian women. Jade Moon is never described as masculine-looking, yet a simple haircut and men’s clothes are enough to fool everyone. Worse than that, all her life, Jade Moon has been taught to move, speak, and behave like a submissive female. While she grows up constantly defying these expectations, I would think it would take lots of practice for Jade Moon to move, think, stand, and speak like a man. Female mannerisms have been second nature for her all her life.

My last concern is teen appeal. I worry that The Fire Horse Girl will be one of those books adults love but students do not choose for themselves. Yes, there are teen readers who love historical fiction, but in my library, there just aren’t that many. My library is genre-fied, and we have a good-sized historical fiction section (as of today, 396 books). Whatever books get checked out from that section tend to be related to Titanic, The Holocaust, or war stories (Chris Lynch’s Vietnam series is HUGE with my boys). I know I will endorse this book, but I think without an enthusiastic librarian or teacher to get readers excited, I don’t see many students selecting The Fire Horse Girl on their own.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Give it a shot, even if you don’t like historical fiction. The story is so engrossing, you’ll barely notice the little flaws in plausibility.

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We just got it from our book fair.

READALIKES: Bound (Napoli)


  • Overall: 4/5
  • Creativity: 5/5
  • Characters: 5/5
  • Engrossing: 4/5
  • Writing: 5/5
  • Appeal to teens: 3/5
  • Appropriate length to tell the story: 4/5


  • Language: none–the story says characters “curse” but the specific words are not used
  • Sexuality: mild; human trafficking (female sex slaves) is a major part of the story toward the end, but the women are called “slaves” (not “sex slaves”). No sexual activity is described.
  • Violence: medium–several fist fights; references to gun violence; organized crime; a suicide attempt
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Angel Island prisoners take medicine for stomachache

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