Olivia Yee grows up with her family in San Francisco. Steeped in American culture she is less than pleased when her older half-sister comes from China to live with them. Kwan has extraordinary powers and senses - she can diagnose and heal by touch, when she tries to wear a digital watch the numbers whizz around, she can sense with pinpoint accuracy electrical faults in a circuit and she can talk to the dead. Kwan is a source of constant irritation to Libby:
Kwan has never been able to correctly pronounce my name, Olivia. To her, I will always be Libby-ah, not plain Libby, like the tomato juice, but Libby-ah, like the nation of Muammar Qaddafi. As a consequence, her husband, George Lew, his two sons from a first marriage, and that whole side of the family all call me Libby-ah too. The 'ah' part especially annoys me. It's the Chinese equivalent of saying 'hey,' as in 'Hey Libby, come here.' I asked Kwan once how she'd like it if I introduced her to everyone as 'Hey, Kwan.' She slapped my arm, went breathless with laughter, then said hoarsely, 'I like, I like.' So much for cultural parallels, Libby-ah it is, forever and ever.As the novel unfolds, Libby learns to love and appreciate the wonderful Kwan. If you are new to Amy Tan, I would suggest reading the novels chronologically. Start with the Joy Luck Club, then The Kitchen God's Wife - watch out for the wonderful Ding Ho Flower Shop - and then The Hundred Secret Senses.