• The Sapling

Book Review: Tiger Daughter, by Rebecca Lim


"This is the book I wish I could have read when I was young. Growing up as a New Zealander of Chinese descent in a rural Southland town I was desperate to find a character whose face and voice reflected my own...it may be the most inspirational novel I have read this year" writes Ruth Oy Har Agnew of Rebecca Lim's new novel Tiger Daughter. Check out her interview with Rebecca tomorrow!



Tiger Daughter by Rebecca Lim (Allen & Unwin)


“There is outside the house and inside the house, … they are two spheres that must never meet, orbiting politely at a distance. With me in the middle, caught in the heavy gravity, slowly tearing apart.”


“Outside the house”, Wen Zhou seems like any other thirteen-year-old Australian, but none of her teachers or classmates know that “inside the house” she and her mother must obey the strict rules set by her father to avoid becoming the targets of his ever-threatening rage. Her parents have failed to achieve the better life they dreamed of when they migrated from China, but Wen knows that one day, she will escape her life ruled by fear, and be free. Tiger Daughter shows the way a child who has no power or agency can still be as strong as a tiger and use that strength to change not only her life, but those of the people she loves.


Author Rebecca Lim does not shy away from tough topics: death, domestic violence and racism are all tackled in a refreshingly honest yet sensitive manner. Wen’s best friend Henry (also the only child of Chinese immigrant parents, in an unhappy home) plans for them to find a path out of the fear, poverty and confusion they experience every day by gaining entrance to a modern new school across town, where they’ll “fit right in”.


When Henry’s mother takes her own life, Wen must fight to keep a connection with the heartbroken boy and keep their dreams alive. The gentle, relatable depiction of a child crushed by the weight of grief and the way seemingly simple gestures of love help him see beyond his pain show readers that there is always hope. Lim’s beautiful blend of stark realism with an ever-present optimism makes Tiger Daughter an uplifting and encouraging story, despite the heavy themes.


Lim’s beautiful blend of stark realism with an ever-present optimism makes Tiger Daughter an uplifting and encouraging story, despite the heavy themes.

The success of this novel rests on the portrayal of the protagonist. Wen’s determination and compassion drive the narrative along, with her quest to save her friend inadvertently improving the lives of the adults in their lives. Readers are given an insightful view of the struggles that many migrant families encounter, such as language barriers, social isolation, and economic difficulty. They are also shown the ways simple daily interactions in classrooms or shops can reinforce cultural barriers or build bridges within communities.


This is the book I wish I could have read when I was young. Growing up as a New Zealander of Chinese descent in a rural Southland town I was desperate to find a character whose face and voice reflected my own. Tiger Daughter goes beyond the brilliant positive representation of a Chinese Australian character; it also offers empathetic understanding for children who have experienced grief, isolation and fear-filled home lives.


Tiger Daughter goes beyond the brilliant positive representation of a Chinese Australian character; it also offers empathetic understanding for children who have experienced grief, isolation and fear-filled home lives.

Tiger Daughter is a simple story about a child making the choice to live a life led by love, not fear, but it may be the most inspirational novel I have read this year. It belongs on bookshelves in every Australian and New Zealand school and library.





tiger daughter

By Rebecca Lim

Allen & Unwin RRP $19.00

Buy now






ruth Oy Har agnew


Ruth Oy Har Agnew is a writer and teacher of Chinese and Pākehā descent from Ōtautahi Christchurch. She has written for Theatreview, The Press, Stuff, Flat Takahe, What’s Up Christchurch, and the Playmarket Annual. She is an experienced actor, and currently works supporting young performers as a speech and drama teacher.