Qian Xiaohong is born into a sleepy Hunan village, where the new China rush towards development is a mere distant rumour. A buxom, naïve sixteen-year-old, she yearns to leave behind hometown scandal, and joins the mass migration to the bustling boomtown of Shenzhen. There, she must navigate dangerous encounters with ruthless bosses, jealous wives, sympathetic hookers and corrupt policemen as she tries to find her place in the ever-evolving society.
Hardship and tragedy are in no short supply as her journey takes her through a grinding succession of dead end jobs. To help her through this confusing maze, Xiaohong finds solace in the close ties she makes with the other migrant girls – the community of her fellow 'northern girls' – who quickly learn to rely on each other for humour and the enjoyment of life's simple pleasures.
A beautiful coming-of-age novel, Northern Girls explores the inner lives of a generation of young, rural Chinese women who embark on life-changing journeys in search of something better.