by Katherine Xiong
Issue #55 • August 16, 2018•Buy Now!
My mother finally took the call after midnight, lying on the sheets on her queen-size mattress with me beside her, propped upright on the pillow. The exchange was on speakerphone, quick and emotionless, spoken in an incomprehensible dialect of Chinese. My mother’s responses in Mandarin barely amounted to whispers, but it didn’t make a difference. There was a voice on the other end, and that voice wasn’t expecting answers.
After we hung up, my mother placed a hand over her eyes and breathed in heavily through her nose. Eventually, barely moving from her place on the bed, she told me the news: my grandmother—a woman I knew from rare glimpses of my mother’s childhood; from a handful of aging photos; and from her heart, which, my mother said, was made of not gold but of something finer, pure white jade—was dead.
Katherine Xiong is a junior at the Lawrenceville School, where she edits for the school newspaper and literary magazines. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and has appeared in Aerie International and Write the World. In her free time, she draws comics, stargazes, and leaves origami everywhere. She lives in Princeton.
Patrick Ryan on White Jade
I was nine when I lost one of my grandparents and fifteen when I lost another. In both cases, I remember every detail about receiving the news: the shock, the tears, the hugs, the consolation. What I don’t remember was thinking that one of my parents had just lost one of their parents. Call it selfishness or shortsightedness, I just couldn’t see my parents as anything but parents, which meant that I couldn’t picture them as someone’s child—someone they’d just found out had passed away.
The narrator of Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade” is wiser and far more generous than I ever was as a child or a young adult. She learns in the opening paragraph of her grandmother’s death and then travels with her mother back to China for the funeral. At every step of the way, she observes and listens to and processes her mother, and she’s able to tap into the complexity of emotions her mother is experiencing. No parent is a parent without having once been a child. No parent can resist measuring themselves against the parents who raised them. Between one generation and the next are layers of hopes, desires, resentments, and regrets. Throw death into the mix, and the emotions become all the more tender—even raw.
“White Jade” is an incredibly sophisticated and accessible portrait of three women bound by more than just blood. For good reason, it’s one of our Teen Writing Contest winners. We’re thrilled to publish it, and we’re thrilled to introduce you to the work of Katherine Xiong.
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
But even though the mother participates in most of the “action” of this story, I don’t want to discount the daughter’s experience and how her arc colors the narrative. She’s the story’s emotional interpreter. She gets that power. And because of how she’s discovering her family, she’s also passing implicit judgment on her mother—judgments that may or may not be accurate. Maybe it’s a more passive arc, but I wanted her growth, her judgments, to matter too.
When I’m procrastinating on those, I’m outlining a fantasy concept about a team of teenagers uncovering a conspiracy about their home and discovering a new one.
“I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002...I got my knowledge of them, as I got whatever knowledge I have of the hearts and minds of human beings, through imagination working on observation. Like any other novelist. All this rule needs is a good definition of ‘know.’”