4.5 stars (the extra 0.5 stars, because I'm super bias about this story).
The Celestial is a historical fiction that took me into the right state of mind: a world when things were black and white with two characters that fit into the non-existent grey of society. Told from Todd's (first person) point of view, you get a narrative of his adventures to pan for gold in the mountains, his meeting with Lao Jian, their adventure to Sacramento, and their struggle to etch a life for themselves, together.
What really won me over was Todd's characterization. Being shy of twenty years old, he's what his mother calls a "mediator." He's rational and mature, with a naivety that allows him to be open to even Lao Jian, a Chinese immigrant, whom are targets of discrimination and racism evident during this time period. However, when it comes to Lao Jian, Todd's enthusiasm, commitment, and love is absolutely ADORABLE! It made my heart melt and clench, especially when his fear and paranoia for Lao Jian has merit during these violent times. Yet despite all the odds against our two MCs, things do wrap up quite nicely in the end. The last chapter actually takes place in the 1920s, when Todd and Lao Jian are old men, and was a great way to close this beautiful story.
So I have to conclude that my extra 0.5 star for this book is born from bias (at least more than what I am used to subjecting in my reviews). Being Chinese myself, born in Hong Kong, and moving to America at a young age were all things that Lao Jian and I share. Even though we are from different time periods (obviously), I know what it's like to have hateful racial slurs tossed in your face. Being told to "go back to China" seem to be something that doesn't change regardless of the era you live in (along with other choice words and phrases). So in a way, I felt a personal connection with Lao Jian that made me enjoy The Celestial even more. Another source of bias is that I understood the Cantonese that were mentioned in the story, so the exchanges between Lao Jian and Todd were even more amusing.
So overall? I absolutely love this book! It wasn't an adventure-filled book that will make you sit on the edge of your seat. Don't expect sex in every chapter (in fact, there was only one sexual scene), nor any huge soap-opera type of melodrama. Todd is such a simple-minded character that he cuts through the type of BS that makes books well over 300+ pages and forces readers to skim. There's none of that here.
The Celestial is a great book, because it tells the story of love that is beautiful in its rarity, innocence and simplicity. And all without skimming!