Book Review – Ghost Girl, Banana by Wiz Wharton

Ghost Girl, Banana by Wiz Wharton is a dynamic and compulsive multigenerational story that moves back and forth in time and place, between mother Sook-Yin and daughter Lily, between Hong Kong and London, spanning four decades from the 1960s to 1990s. It’s a story of love and betrayal; of the struggles of dual-heritage identity; of the power of memory and the connections we search out to better understand ourselves; of the stories we are told and the stories we uncover; of belonging, acceptance and what our worth is built in on; and of being torn between duty and following our own hearts. 

Lily, struggling with her mental health and with finding her place in the world in contrast to her highly successful and ‘together’ sister, receives a letter that a stranger has left her money in his will. The only condition is that she must travel to Hong Kong to accept the money. In alternating chapters, her story unfolds in tandem with her mother’s story one generation before, whose journey initially took her in the opposite direction, from Hong Kong to London.

Wharton skilfully leads us along a vivid path of storytelling as Sook-Yin seeks to create her future, while Lily seeks to discover her heritage and unravel her past, at a pivotal time in Hong Kong’s history; a place, so richly brought to life by Wharton, pulled between countries just like the leading characters in this story are pulled between their homes and heritage.

Sook-yin, sent forth to London by her family to make something of herself, is both an admirable and lovable character; as tenacious, practical and frank as she is vulnerable, and full of ideals and dreams. Despite the adversity and racism thrown her way, she perseveres, uses her initiative, and begins to find her place in this new city; but she always longs for home. 

Lily, decades later and with barely a memory of her mother who has since passed away, is struggling with who she is now. The letter from the stranger provides an opportunity to finally take charge of her present, and rediscover her past. However, the visit to Hong Kong brings more than expected as family history and secrets come to light, revealing all is often not what it seems. 

Wharton has such a vivid, dynamic and pictorial writing style; whether it’s the sights and sounds, culture and traditions of Hong Kong, or the lively dialogue her characters engage in. She beautifully, and with a keen eye, explores the complexity of family dynamics, and the inner struggles experienced by both mother and daughter. This is a really enjoyable, engaging and thought-provoking story, with vivid and fully fleshed out characters, that draws us along at great pace as Sook-Yin and Lily’s revelatory journeys unfold.

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Wiz Wharton was born in London of Chinese-European heritage. She is a prize-winning graduate from the National Film and Television School where she studied screenwriting under the tutelage of Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh and Ken Trodd. Previously published in non-fiction, she has appeared on various broadcast platforms, including radio, television and print media. Her debut novel, Ghost Girl, Banana – based on her mother’s posthumously discovered diaries – is a dual narrative examining the search for belonging and identity, set between the last years of the Chinese Windrush in 1966 and Hong Kong’s Handover to China in 1997. An early draft of the novel reached the Longlist of The Jericho Writers Friday Night Live initiative 2020, the Grindstone Literary Novel Competition 2020, The TLC BESEA Initiative, and the Next Chapter Award from the Scottish Book Trust. She was the 2020 winner of The Jericho Writers Self Edit Bursary and a finalist in The DHA Open Writers Week. She currently divides her time between London and the Scottish Highlands.

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