The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

Josanne La Valley's debut novel The Vine Basket (Clarion, 2013) is Merighul's story, and it's not an easy one: not for a 14-year-old girl who has to leave school to help on the family farm after her brother disappears, leaving her father embittered, her mother withdrawn, and herself in danger of being to sent away to work in a factory; and not as a Uyghur in East Turkestan, a land--and increasingly, a culture--dominated by the Han Chinese. Merighul has reason to hope when an American woman buys her vine basket for 100 yuan (just 16 American dollars, but more than Merighul's family might make at the market in a month) and says she'll come back in three weeks for more--but those three weeks bring more hardship, and Merighul may not have even one new basket to bring to market on the fateful day.

Merighul's story is almost unbearably hard (her little sister Lali's situation is heartbreaking, too). Thankfully, Merighul has the support of her grandfather Chong Ata, an artisan himself, and a true friend, Pati; and even though her future is not at all certain at the end of the book, it is at least more hopeful. 

The Vine Basket reminded me in many ways--particularly in Merighul's dedication to her craft and descriptions of the basketweaving process--of A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (also Clarion, 2001), although that book is about 12th century Korean pottery (Park reviewed The Vine Basket for the New York Times, 5/10/2013). A Single Shard is one of my favorite Newbery Medal winners, which should say something about how I feel about The Vine Basket. Required--and rewarding--reading.

[Black Garden (Tandem), 2009 from Living Shrines of Uyghur China: Photographs by Lisa Ross (The Monacelli Press, 2013). Merighul ties a thin strip of cloth like these to a bamboo culm with a prayer for skill and courage.]