A Heart to Survive

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Editorial Reviews


Haunting, poignant, and compelling…

Human trafficking, racial disparity, resilience, and courage mark Fillis’s earnest series kicker in the historical fiction series. With the civil war in full swing and Mao Zedong’s ruthless control of the nation, fourteen-year-old Tao Wen Shun, the upstanding son of an educated family, is sent aboard a sailing ship to live as the paper-son to a Chinese family in Canada. After a harrowing sea voyage, Tao finds himself in the clutches of a human trafficking gang, and escape doesn’t seem like an option. The world Fillis creates, be it the disquiet of a Chinese town of Hangzhou or the searing discrimination of a Canadian city, is both complex and authentic. The warm, grounded romance toward the end comes out as a pleasant surprise. Although the novel tackles various complex themes, including human trafficking, racial discrimination, young love, and a teenager’s coming of age story, Fillis’s expert execution of the plot and sharp cultural observations make it a gratifying read.


In this sharp-edged, dark historical drama, a young Chinese boy’s attempt at a normal life in Canada crumbles after he falls prey to a human trafficking ring. It’s the peak of the civil war in China. With Mao Zedong’s rebel forces gaining momentum, fourteen-year-old Tao Wen Shun is forced to board a ship to Canada by his family to escape the terrors of Mao’s regime. But instead of a Chinese family awaiting him on the other side, he finds himself trapped in the clutches of a human trafficking ring. Fillis skillfully chronicles Wen’s courageous ascent to liberation, imbuing his story with a sense of claustrophobia and hope. Wen Shun is gutsy, resourceful, and keen to help others, and his journey to freedom is inspiring as he remains standing tall in the face of the relentless difficulties life throw his way. Crisp prose, the affecting first-person narrative, and tension-filled, tight plotting keep the readers turning pages nonstop. The conclusion is left unresolved, leaving readers excited for the next installment. Paired with the atmospheric setting, the exploration of the themes of human trafficking, racial discrimination, and individual struggles makes for a thoroughly engrossing coming of age tale.

– BookView Review ★★★★★



Emotionally engaging and compelling saga. Interwoven with suspense, tragedy, deception, loyalty, love, prejudice, and racism occurring through relationships, romance, human trafficking, and workplace injustices. We didn’t want to put the book down.

Carolyn V.

A wonderful story filled with emotion and the struggle to survive by taking one step at a time. As Tao Wen Shun (Winson) moves forward on his journey he honors his family’s culture and finds himself looking to adapt to each new situation. In a world that is condemning him for his skin color, he keeps his tact and is immensely careful in his words and actions when it would be easier to lash out. I look forward to the next book in this series to see how he overcomes obstacles and perseveres. When our modern world is still struggling with racial tensions, this book reminds us how far we have come…with certainly much more to go.

Jerret K.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I loved the characters and would actually like to meet people like them. The storyline kept me interested and eager to find out where the story would take the characters. Thoroughly appreciated the references to the Chinese immigration issues, prejudices that exist, then and now, and the keen observations about human nature.

Elaine C.

A historical fiction novel beginning in Hangzhou, China, in 1949 during the uprising revolution of Mao. The central character is Wen Shun (later known as Winson), a 14-year old boy forced by his parents to leave his family and his country for his own safety and travel to another continent, country, and culture. I enjoyed this novel and learned a lot about Canada and the “Paper Family” sponsorship upon which Wen Shun initially embarked upon from China. I highly recommend this book and look forward to a sequel.

Jeri T.

As I read A Heart To Survive, I was captivated by the events that took me through Winson’s life in Canada in the 1950s, his strength and endurance in his struggle with prejudice as a Chinese immigrant and how his life evolved over the years. This book will leave you anxious for a continuing sequel.

Fran V.