The story takes place in the Hunan province of China in the early nineteenth century and goes into a lot of fascinating background about what it was like to be a girl and a woman in that culture. Snow Flower and Lily are joined by a Diviner and a Matchmaker to be "old sames" for life, also called laotong. This is an even more intimate type of relationship for these girls than a marriage as they share all of their feelings, hopes, and dreams together over their lifetimes through the secret writings of women called "nu shu". They send their messages to each other via the fan while they are apart.
I was unaware of the total horror of the practice of footbinding that killed one in ten and crippled countless more for life. I thought they just kind of wrapped the foot in bindings so it didn't become wide, flat, and too large. I didn't know it involved the breaking of bones and total re-forming. Stomach churning stuff.
Life takes very different paths for these women and one is not at all what it should have been, so incredibly sad. I don't want to give too much away in the review but I would highly recommend that you read this book. Aside from what was mostly a difficult and desperate way to live, they had some touching and lovely customs and a strong devotion to family and honor. 5 star rating.