Helin Jung
December 13, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

Ellis Avery studied tea ceremony for several years, so it makes sense that the ritual dominates her first novel. She shares every subtlety of the ancient art, which she infuses into the coming-of-age story of Aurelia, an orphaned French-American girl growing up in 19th-century Japan. Aurelia becomes Urako when she’s adopted by a Japanese family, and she notices everything, even the temperature of the tea. Attention to detail is admirable, but The Teahouse Fire drags the weight of excessively described kimonos and utensils. That’s especially unfortunate here since Urako is a compelling character who maintains a buoyant spirit as she navigates unrequited love, lesbianism, and culture shock.

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