Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters, Pearl and May. They were known as "beautiful girls", meaning that they posed for artists who used the paintings for "beautiful girl" posters, calendars and various advertisements. The girls lived what was, to them, an enchanted life. Until one day their world was turned upside down by their father informing them that he had arranged marriages for them both. They were to marry brothers who were Chinese but lived in America, specifically, Los Angelos. This was definitely not the future the two forward looking sisters had envisioned for themselves.
Through the girls' struggle to reconcile the traditional Chinese way of life with the modern world, we get a fascinating glimpse of another culture. Shanghai Girls is reminiscent of the books by Amy Tan. Both authors write about Chinese-Americans and their lives both in the past in China and in the present in the United States. Shanghai Girls is written as a first person narrative with Pearl being the narrator. As we read her words we are transported from China, when Japan invaded, to America, from World War II through the Korean War, giving us a taste of a slice of American history. Above all, this story is about family; what makes a family and the ties between its members, especially between sisters. That sisterly tie is so strong it cannot be broken, whatever twists and turns the sisters' lives take.