Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shouting About Sex in the Hallways

Recently I posted about catching author Dori Jones Yang's fascinating presentation on historical Christianity in the Far East at the Seattle U Book Festival, and we followed that meeting up with a two-hour coffee at Belle Pastry where we talked books, publishing, marketing, book clubs, family, Kindle, and cross-cultural connections. A good time was had by all.

Unfortunately, Dori had no copies of her just-released YA novel Daughter of Xanadu (Random House) on her, so the one I have since purchased and read is un-autographed, but it gives me an excuse to hunt her down again for another two-hour coffee. Daughter of Xanadu is an imagined encounter between Marco Polo during his  Far Eastern travels and the warlike, tomboyish oldest grandaughter of Kubilai Khan.

Given my eleven-year-old's tendency to devour anything from Kevin Henkes to Meg Cabot, I told Dori I thought Daughter would be great material for a mother-daughter book club (which she could, of course, visit). When Dori heard her age, she suggested it would be more appropriate in a few years. In short, "There's a sex scene at the end. A pretty tame one, but you may want to read the last two pages first." Read the end first??? No way! I would read the whole thing first, thank you very much.

Naturally I had been talking the mother-daughter-book-club-author-visit idea up around the home, much as I talked big talk about getting backyard chickens, only to have that come to naught, so when the sixth grader saw my copy of Daughter of Xanadu on the kitchen table, she instantly grabbed it. "Is this it? Is this the book we're going to read together?"

"Uhh..." I backpedaled. "It depends. We'll read it together eventually, but the author told me you might be a little young for it because there's a sex scene at the end."

"Oh, Mommy," she groaned, "I hear that all the time. People at Chinook [Middle School] even shout about it in the hallways."

"People shout about sex in the hallways?" I repeat, aghast.


The doorbell rings, and it's our eighth-grade babysitter. I accost her at the front door: "K---do people at Chinook really shout about sex in the hallways?"

K takes my attack in stride, as if every babysitting job begins thus. "Yeah."

Well, I'll be.

Let me just say, I finished Daughter of Xanadu yesterday, and if Dori herself hadn't told me that was a sex scene at the end, I would have missed it. Explicit it is not. More on the subtle, symbolic end of the spectrum. I still might wait till after the sixth grader and I take the Seattle Children's Hospital sex-ed class at the end of March, however, because there is plenty of talk in the book about "tingling" sensations whenever Marco happens to touch her. And the man does a fair amount of touching.

Sex aside, the book is a fabulous read. What's the last book you read about Mongolia, for heaven's sake? The setting is completely fresh, the history dished out without force-feeding, and the characters complicated and interesting. Dori Yang weaves richly-imagined episodes into fixed historical points and events and gives us a heroine worth rooting for.

Unlike the backyard-chickens idea, further reflection only makes me more certain that Daughter of Xanadu would make for great mother-daughter book-club discussion. Where do you draw the line between becoming your own person and honoring your parents? What possible choices did Emmajin have at various key plot points, and did you think she made the right choices? Which religions were represented in the novel--did you agree with Marco's claim that Tengri was the same as the Christian God? And so on.

So read local this week and pick up a copy of this wonderful book!


  1. Okay C. I've got to give up all my school volunteering, get my youngest in Kindergarten, a figure out a way that everyone rides the us or gets themselves to school so I can cook healthy meals, exercise, and read more than just our monthly book club read. How many days until school starts next year? Actually, this could be a good summer read for our book club. What do you think? M.

  2. p.s. Sounds like it's a good idea that T. and his dad are going to the sex ed class in March also (boy's version). He needs to know what all that shouting is about in Middle School next year. My neighbor girls reaction to the class-"You and Dad to that and Dogs do that?!" Mom-"Yes that's how all mammals reproduce." Daughter-"Even whales in the sea?! Yuck." Of corse, the animals won't be a surprise to my PBS Nature watching son. He's even watched the episode on male gorillas that get booted out by the alpha male and form their own little alternative lifestyle clubs. And your oldest should be prepared with that chicken book you've read ;-).