Review: Ruby’s Wish

Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who’s full of ambition and the family who rewards her hard work and courage.

In a fine old house in a fine Chinese city many years ago, a young girl named Ruby lived with her  grandfather, his many wives, their many adult children (and their spouses), and their many, many grandchildren. The house was full of children, but Ruby stood out because she insisted on wearing red, the colour of celebration, every single day. Being a wealthy man, Ruby’s grandfather hired a teacher to instruct his grandchildren, and while both girls and boys could attend classes, the girls had to work much, much harder than the boys. After classes finished the boys were free to play, while the girls had to learn how to cook and clean and take care of a home. While the rest of the girls eventually stopped coming to classes, Ruby refused to give up on her education, and worked on her assignments late into the night. One day, when asked in class to write a poem, Ruby lamented her bad luck in being born a girl in a family that only cared for boys. Ruby’s grandfather was confused. How could Ruby feel that way? With a rich grandfather like him, Ruby could marry any man she wanted! What Ruby wanted more than anything, though, was to go to university – something only boys could even dream of.

Ruby’s Wish is a powerful story, beautifully told.  To accomplish as much as her male peers, Ruby had to work twice as hard. Every day she was reminded that she was not as important as the boys in her family through small, subtle acts of gender-based discrimination. For example, the boys in the family always received the fanciest lanterns during the Lantern Festival, and always got the half of the moon cake with the yellow moon yolk during the Moon Festival. Inequalities like these might seem small and insignificant, but together they work to drive wedges between the genders, and reinforce unfair social hierarchies.

Ruby’s desire to go to school echoes the dreams and wishes of young women all around the world who long for an education, but who are prevented from doing so by relatives, many of whom are, like Ruby’s grandfather, loving and well-meaning individuals who are acting out of a belief that they know what is best for their charges.

While Ruby’s story is one of inequality, it is also a story of hope. Ruby never gives up on her dream of going to university, and she dedicates herself completely to achieving her goal, even if it seems absolutely out of reach. Her grandfather, upon realizing the depths of his granddaughter’s  wishes, breaks with social convention and makes her dreams come true.

The final page of the story, in which it’s revealed that not only did Ruby go to university, she was in fact the author’s grandmother, absolutely tugged at my heartstrings. Knowing that this is a true story, and that Ruby was a real young woman, gives the story such a strong emotional impact, and reinforces its message of hope. People can change. Social norms can be challenged. Dreams can come true. It isn’t always easy, but it can happen, as it has before.

The gentle, elegant text presents Ruby’s story simply and beautifully, and captures both Ruby and her grandfather with real love and appreciation.

More than just the story of one girl’s triumph over adversity, Ruby’s Wish is a wonderfully crafted tale that will capture the hearts of readers, and hopefully inspire them to pursue their own dreams with the same kind of fire and determination as the red-clad Ruby.

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