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Readers’ Reviews of The Crystal Monkey

Readers’ Comments about The Crystal Monkey

Melanie of Mel’s Shelves:

Min Li is a young Chinese girl who believes that she lives in the greatest nation, China, and that Americans and capitalism are evil. She is a peasant and, since she feels wealthy, she considers that to be a good thing. At the beginning of the story, she feels that the Red Guards, a militant youth group, are the bright future of China. The Red Guards have become power hungry, though, and one night, her family is required to attend a meeting where she realizes who they really are.

That night, she rescues a crystal monkey from Mr. Li’s shop, a brave act that would have serious consequences if she was caught. The crystal monkey shows up in her dreams and helps her through some difficult times in her life. She has to hide it and is disappointed when it disappears and she learns the truth of what happened to it. Over the years, her eyes are opened more and more as she learns the truth about her father and the importance of a good education as the key to creating a better life for herself.

I loved Min Li! My heart broke a little at some of the things that happened to her. She’s resilient and determined to make a better life for herself. She’s almost raped twice by the same boy. The first time, she tried to press charges, but he’s the son of a wealthy and influential man and nobody will stop him. After his second attempt, I was hoping he would go away but he makes another appearance and what he wanted at that point made me feel sick so I can’t imagine how Min Li felt. Her father is another disappointment to her. He lives away from the family most of the time and is incredibly selfish when he does come around. He doesn’t have much use for his family unless he needs them to help him with something. I loved her mother, brother and sisters. They are poor but stick together and work hard to survive.

I like that the author included a glossary at the end to help with pronunciations and definitions. I enjoy reading stories about different cultures and this had an authentic feel to it. I wasn’t surprised to read later that the author has lived in China. I learned a lot about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and some of it is pretty horrible and difficult to read.

This is a fantastic coming-of-age story that will make you feel like you’re witnessing history. I was glad to read that the author is working on a sequel. I enjoyed the ending but feel like there is more to Min Li’s story so I’m looking forward to reading it!

Content: Violence relating to the Red Guards; two rape attempts, neither one too graphic.

I received a copy of this book to review. My opinion is 100% my own.


This is a remarkable story! I have little knowledge about China’s Cultural Revolution and the Mao Dynasty so this was definitely out of the box for me. Something about the summary of this story stirred me enough to buy “The Crystal Monkey” and learn more about this part of history.

The story chronicles a young peasant girl that has a great desire to learn, something limited to the dictates of the China’s Communist government. The difficulties her poor peasant family lives with become eye opening for Min Li as she grows older. “Everybody has a place. Everybody is expected to know their place. Everybody is expected to do what they are told without question. …If you step out of line in society, you will be punished. China has no place for people who ask why.” (Pg.235-236)

Red Guards terrorized her little village and take away “questionable” people, including a shop owner who is Min Li’s special friend. In his shop is a smiling crystal monkey that intrigues Min Li every time she comes to visit. Red Guards destroy and loot the store, but Min Li is clever enough to sneak in and take the crystal monkey. She hides the treasure and finds it enters her life and dreams in a way that drives her to seek truth and light. Happiness is out there – somewhere, and education is Min Li’s path.

Based on real events and actual experiences, we readers are able to live life with those who “struggled to succeed in the Chinese countryside at a time when success was measured by living to the next day in a society that was not free.” (Pg.277 Acknowledgments)

Min Li succeeds, but the journey to find personal happiness is not easy for her. The final paragraph gave me chills! I loved Min Li, her determination, and her hope. I want to read a sequel that continues this sweet girl’s story.

For me, “The Crystal Monkey” is a keeper, and I highly recommend it!


This is a fascinating story. I really have not read any books based on a little girl growing up in China. I did not want to put the story down. It was a good glimpse at what life was like.

It shows how hard and why students study so long and hard. What different festivals they celebrated. How the different uprising and changes made in political effected families. What happens if your family gets on the wrong side of the government and you became a black family.
How the teachers, doctors were taken and uneducated people than became the doctors and teachers.

Min Li is the main character in Crystal Monkey. She starts out very young. She is born in a peasant family with a older brother and two younger sisters. She becomes fascinated with a expensive crystal monkey in a little gift shop. The shop owner is retired and does not sell too much and he tells her if it does not sell he will leave it to her in his will.

There is only one book that they have to learn from in school and supposedly each house. That is a scary thought of no books.

The author is a American who lived in China for years teaching English and is married to a Limin who is Chinese and based his character on. His book in my eyes made sense of what life could have been like in China at that time.

Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Is what he based his book on those years and what was life like during that time.

I did not want the story to be over. I wanted to know more about Min Li’s future.


I love when a book feels like it takes me to a different time and place. This book took me to China just after the Communists took over. I saw the life of the peasant class through the eyes of Min Li. I watched as unfair punishments were handed down to humble the people and keep them in line. I saw how a young girl loved her country and then realized that the propaganda wasn’t all that it was played up to be.

Even though this book is a work of fiction, it felt authentic. It was hard to read about a village being exposed to executions. It was hard to read about some of the experiences that Min Li endured. It was hard to read about the dominance of men in the home. While they were hard things to read about, they were important to the story and the transformation of a child to a young woman who realizes the problems with her government.

This book is a great coming of age story.

Lisa Brown:

Min Li is a young peasant girl, growing up in a small village during Mao’s cultural revolution. She believes he it is the greatest leader, and China is the best country in the world, until Red Guards come to her village and make her question everything.

The story follows Min Li through her schooling, as she survives poverty, danger, and the struggles of living in Red China. As she struggles to change her fate, she is continually comforted by dreams of the crystal monkey – a figurine that she took from a destroyed gift shop when she was little. And in spite of all that happens, the monkey gives her hope for a bright future.

Bethany Zohner:

I really liked learning about Chinese culture from the story. The plot is fast-paced and has a lot of good action. I felt that the story ended too soon. I wanted to follow Min Li to the end of her life. I had some questions about what happened or was going to happen to the characters Overall, I felt I learned a lot about Chinese culture and history and really enjoyed myself.

Pamela Bell:

This is a fantastic story on two levels. The plot is compelling and one cannot help but care about the characters, especially Min Li, and what happens to them. The writing draws the reader into China during the cultural revolution. In addition, Nohrden’s writing style is both lyrical and subtle. It is easy for the reader to see the world through Min Li’s eyes. I was hooked from the very first paragraph.

Robert O’Shea:

This is a very interesting book about China and the people you never hear about. I loved it because it gets you so caught up in the every day lives of the family. Easy reading and NO PROFANITY. I would recommenced this book to everyone.

Julie Helm:

Wonderful book, love it can hardly wait for more books from him to read.

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