February Flowers by Fan Wu Picador, HK$120 'Not growing up is a good thing.' So says Miao Yan to Chen Ming, a 17-year-old book lover she befriends one evening on an abandoned rooftop. The pair, both university students in Guangzhou in 1991, couldn't be more different. Miao Yan, seven years older, comes from one of China's Miao tribes and is as spirited and free with her affections as her new friend is reserved and virginal. But somehow they click, and intensely so. A coming-of-age story that contrasts modern ways with old values, February Flowers is also an affecting comment on the legacy of Mao Zedong's re-education of millions of people during the Cultural Revolution. Chen Ming, the child of exiled schoolteacher parents-turned-farmers, embodies the hope that died in her father and mother during their youth, which explains the emphasis on her scholarly achievements and naivete where male/female relationships are concerned. Narrated by Chen Ming 12 years after the end of her friendship with Miao Yan, the deceptively simple story succeeds in evoking a deep sense of loss and longing, especially when the protagonist describes her less-than-passionate, and ultimately unsuccessful, marriage to a doctor. Not a few works of fiction have come out of the mainland about the sexual awakening of its young. This, a debut novel by Fan Wu, is one of the better offerings.