Rating: 4.5 Stars.
This was a stunning book. I loved the lyrical nature of the writing style. Its poetic style, as opposed to prose, was a unique way of sharing such a powerful tale. I’m not at all surprised it’s so well recognized as a best seller (not to mention National Book Award Winner and a Newberry Medal Winner). Its well deserving of the fame.
I adored the main character as I found her struggles so authentic, both with the trivial fixations she clings to and the painful realities she is trying to forget. I can identify with the barriers she feels with language and culture, and simply not being able to communicate with the new world you’re forced into.
I also found the voice to be quite real. I’m not surprised to learn that the author was a Vietnamese refugee, as the details that she selected to emphasize really brought truth to her story. I loved the little things she’d make mention of – the incense, the papaya, how the new world she had joined just didn’t ever truly match the glorified version of what she’d had at home, all done through poetry. It’s astounding.
The echoing of the bombing, the impending exodus was also beautifully haunting. A great foreshadowing of things to come, an ominous cloud, as the reader, you know what it means, despite her clear lack of understanding. The book focussed a lot on her integration, and some links to her past, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more resonance of the past.
I’d never read anything by this author before, but I will certainly put her other book “Listen, Slowly” on my ‘To Read” list.
The poetic style can be a barrier for some to want to read, but the shortness of the text and the simplicity of the language makes it really accessible to many readers. It’s a brilliant book to use as a teaching tool, as its ease and brevity lends itself to great use for read alouds.
I’d recommend this to any one of my students.
Themes: family, coming of age, war, language and communication, loss, Vietnam war