Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Gosh, I read this back in the summer and never got around to posting about it. It's been such a huge book, you probably don't need a summary. (If you do, see my full review here.)
My thoughts: I thought it was very well-researched. I learned a lot about 19th century China, particularly about foot-binding. I had no idea they actually broke and permanently deformed the foot - I thought they just bound it so it stayed child-small. Eeeyugh!!! I had had no idea Chinese women had had a secret language, although I do think it's rather funny they thought it was a "secret" from the men when they sang and chanted in it at every special event and even wove it into clothing and shoes. As Lily finally realized, the men knew about it, they just didn't think women had anything important to say. I was also really intrigued by the formation of the laotong friendships that were almost like marriages and in many cases there was much more affection and devotion involved.
From review in School Library Journal - "Their friendship, and this tale, illustrates the most profound of human emotions: love and hate, self-absorption and devotion, pride and humility, to name just a few. Even though the women's culture and upbringing may be vastly different from readers' own, the life lessons are much the same, and they will be remembered long after the details of this fascinating story are forgotten." I really agreed with this. Despite the far-off setting, I found the book enjoyable and it really does cover all of those emotions, particularly love (and the longing to be loved) and self-absorption. That the breaking of Lily and Snow Flower's decades-long bond is caused by a single misunderstanding, is quite tragic, but I'm sure it still happens today.
I really learned a lot about 19th-century China - footbinding was even more brutal than I'd thought, the nu shu writing was really interesting and I was intrigued by the latong friendships between girls which are set up like an arranged marriage and often involve more affection and devotion than one.
What I learned about Juli: Well, in her blurb about this book she says that she and her husband travelled to China in 2004 and tried to stay off the beaten track, so I learned she's an adventurous traveller! She says that "Snow Flower gave me another glimpse into their culture." and I found that this book really did that well for me, too.