Archive for the ‘Teen Fiction Review’ Category

Review of The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X. R. Pan

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 472 pages.
Review written in early 2018 from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Honor
2019 Walter Award Honor
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book ties together symbolism and back story and grief and young love and magical realism and puts it all together into a package with punch. That sounds trite, and this book is anything but trite.

This is how Leigh begins her story.

My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.

I know it’s true the way I know the stain on the bedroom floor is as permanent as the sky, the way I know my father will never forgive himself. Nobody believes me, but it is a fact. I am absolutely certain.

We learn that Leigh’s mother committed suicide. The same day that Leigh’s best friend Axel kissed her and changed everything between them.

But then her mother appeared to her as a giant red bird. She said Leigh’s name. And left behind a feather.

The bird finds a way to tell Leigh to go to Taipei and meet her grandparents for the first time. In Taipei there are more appearances from the red bird. Leigh and Waipo and Waigong start traveling to the places her mother loved. It is Ghost Month in Taiwan. She learns that ghosts move on after forty-nine days. There isn’t much time left for her mother. She wants to figure out what her mother is trying to tell her.

But meanwhile, the red bird shows her a box of incense sticks. When she burns a stick, she sees memories – memories that belong to other members of her family. She begins to understand her mother better, but also her father and her grandparents. She learns why she never met them while her mother was alive. She understands better what her mother was up against.

These memories are interspersed with Leigh’s travels around Taiwan and time with her grandparents and sightings of the red bird. Also interspersed are Leigh’s memories of the last couple years with her friend Axel. The complication when he got a girlfriend who wasn’t Leigh. Their friendship and Leigh’s love of making art – which her Dad thinks she should give up to pursue something “serious.”

I am not always a fan of magical realism. I like fantasy where I understand how it works, which this didn’t fit at all. But Emily X. R. Pan won me over with her well-crafted story. The threads of grief, family history, following your passion, and falling in love with your best friend – all worked together to make an amazing book.

I’m writing this review before I’ve talked with anyone else about it – so this is solely my opinion. I am just not sure if I think this fits the age range for the Newbery. Leigh is fifteen – so there will certainly be many fourteen-year-old readers. I was personally trying to rule out any books that begin with discussions of sex, and this one begins with Leigh thinking about how much she wants to kiss Axel, so it’s not quite that.

I do think that the approach taken in this book is to a child audience – to the teenager as a child. Leigh approaches her grief as a child missing her mother, as a child becoming acquainted with her grandparents. Yes, there’s an aspect of hoping her best friendship with Axel will make the jump to an adult relationship, but that is only starting to happen.

But that’s only my opinion. And I’m only saying I do think this book is distinguished – but I’m making no claims at all to it being most distinguished. Or even if it’s in my top seven. I’m only saying that it made a strong impression on the first reading. I’ll indulge in a little speculation — whatever the committee decides – I hope this will also get some Morris and Printz love. I am amazed that Emily X. R. Pan is a debut author! But even if she doesn’t get any award recognition – this is an amazing book, and I hope many people read it. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author.

exrpan.com
lbyr.com
theNOVL.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

As You Wish

by Chelsea Sedoti

Sourcebooks Fire, January 2018. 412 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 2017 from an advance reader copy
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Teen Speculative Fiction

I’m so excited! As You Wish is the first book I’ve read that’s eligible for the 2019 Newbery Award, being a book published in America during 2018 for an audience that includes some group between the ages of 0 and 14. (In this case, it’s for 14 and up.)

I’m writing this review in August 2017 after finishing the book and before having discussed it with anyone at all. So this is entirely my opinion and not the opinion of anyone else – and I have no idea at this writing if the committee will consider it (or even if they’ll decide that the age range doesn’t fit the criteria) or what anyone else on the committee thinks of it. That’s my disclaimer – but I can still post this review after our decision has been announced in 2019. Writing a review will also help me remember what happened in this book as the year goes on and the number of books I’ve read gets bigger and bigger.

As You Wish is about a small town in Nevada near the site of Area 51. Alien hunters come through town often – but the town conspires to give them the message, “Nothing to see here! Move along!” Because the town of Madison, Nevada, has a secret.

That secret is that on their eighteenth birthday, every teen living in Madison gets a wish. And the wish will come true.

There are rules about wishing. The scope of the wishing is the town itself. You can’t wish for something that will affect things outside Madison and thus bring the attention of outsiders. For example, you can’t wish to be the best football player in the country, but you can wish to be the best football player in Madison.

The book starts 25 days before Eldon Wilkes’ wish day. Eldon used to be the best football player in town – he was always naturally talented. But that was before this year, when his friends started getting their wishes. Now he’s a bit at loose ends, not used to being an average player. He doesn’t know what he’s going to wish for.

Eldon has seen lots of wishes go wrong. His dad wished to be the best football player in town – and then he got injured. Now he coaches their team. Eldon’s mother Luella wished that Harmon Wilkes (Eldon’s dad) would love her and only her forever. Trouble is, somewhere along the way, Luella stopped loving him.

She knows there’s no reversing her wish. She could divorce Harmon and move out of Madison. She could go to the other side of the world. But no matter what she says or does or how far away she moves, Harmon Wilkes will never stop loving her.

Eldon does some exploring. He asks people about their wishes. What did they wish? Why did they wish for that thing? Are they happy with it?

I like the way this premise is explored. I like how wishing has taken over the dynamics of the town. People in Madison don’t ask kids what they’re going to be when they grow up. They ask kids what they are going to wish for.

And so many people regret making the wish they did. Even the one person Eldon meets who gave up his wish regrets giving it up. There’s a lot riding on his choice – what will Eldon do?

This book also presents a realistic picture of a jock in a small town who is no longer the star of the team and looking for some meaning, dealing with friends, and also with missing his little sister, who was in a horrible accident when hit by a speeding car driven by a kid who was late for making his wish. If only they hadn’t taken his sister out of Madison so soon, but now she’s in a hospital in Las Vegas in a vegetative state.

My reading year is off to a great start!

chelseasedoti.com
sourcebooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on an advance reader copy.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dry, by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Friday, May 8th, 2020

Dry

by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Simon & Schuster, 2018. 390 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 8, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Teen Speculative Fiction

Dry is frighteningly easy to imagine happening. The book tells the story of what happens when all the taps in Southern California are suddenly out of water in the middle of a drought.

It starts when Arizona and Nevada back out of a reservoir relief deal and shut the floodgates on all the dams, keeping the water for themselves.

For a long time, people haven’t been allowed to fill swimming pools, so there aren’t any of those sitting around full of water. The government brings desalinization machines to the beach, but there isn’t enough for all the people who come, and a riot develops and the machines get destroyed.

Fortunately, Alyssa, the main character in our story lives next door to a Survivalist family with their own water tank – and a teenage son who has a crush on her. But Alyssa also has a younger brother to care for who is autistic. When their parents go missing after trying to get water at the beach, she turns to the neighbor boy. But the neighborhood knows they have water….

One thing leads to another, and we end up having a story of a bunch of teens trying to flee to safety when society has descended into chaos.

Since I lived in Southern California many years, it was easy to picture the story all the way along, including when they drove in the dry aqueducts. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to imagine this happening — from the water drying up to the completely inadequate response to the water zombies who cared about nothing but getting water.

Riveting and frightening, here’s a near-future thriller for teens. Don’t be surprised if they start hoarding water after they read it, though.

simonandschuster.com/teen

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

My Plain Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

HarperTeen, 2018. 450 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2018, based on a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Teen Speculative Fiction

Oh, I loved this book! Now this might be a good place to mention: Just because I loved this book, just because it made me laugh and smile – doesn’t mean I think it’s the most distinguished children’s literature of the year. (My disclaimer doesn’t mean I don’t think that either.) I’m writing this review before I have discussed the book with anyone, when I am simply full of how much just plain fun this book was to read.

Yes, this book reminded me very much of the authors’ earlier offering, My Lady Jane, which I also loved. Even though the premise was completely different. Okay, the authors were still purporting to tell the true story of something from England’s history – with a dose of magic, but the magic was quite different in this case. And the thing from history was the writing of a novel – Jane Eyre.

I recently read a retelling of Jane Eyre set in space, Brightly Burning, and in the age of the #MeToo movement, I’m a little disappointed with myself that I still find the story of Jane Eyre romantic. This book was not afraid to point out all the many ways Mr. Rochester was a totally inappropriate predator – so that eased my discomfort and made for a very satisfying story. (There were even extenuating circumstances!)

The story opens with Jane Eyre – and her friend Charlotte Bronte – as poor teachers at Lowood school. The evil Mr. Brocklehurst has just died (poisoned?). But there is a difference, besides Charlotte Bronte being on the scene. (This is how she got the idea, you see.) Jane is able to see and talk with ghosts. In fact her friend the sainted Helen Burns, who dies in the book, indeed died at Lowood, but now is Jane’s constant companion and beloved advisor.

The main plot of the book revolves around the Royal Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits, in fact. Alexander Bell, the star agent of the society, learns that Jane has this gift as a seer, and tries to recruit her to join the society. But she doesn’t want to leave Thornfield and its fascinating master.

Charlotte, however, is more than eager to join the Society. Too bad she can’t see ghosts like her bumbling brother Branwell can. Antics ensue.

But the most fun part of this book is the commentary that ghost Helen Burns provides to Mr. Rochester’s inappropriate actions. I love that she notices that they’re inappropriate. (So do the narrators, for that matter.) There’s a different story behind the wife in the attic in this version, and I just love the way it all works out.

Great fun, earnest people trying to do good, lots of ghosts, and even some romance – much more satisfying than the original. We also see how Charlotte got the idea for her book!

Distinguished? I’ll let you judge for yourself. The plot is maybe not terribly likely. But this book unquestionably is a whole lot of fun and highly recommended and perhaps one of my favorite young adult books I’ve read this year.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Red Hood, by Elana K. Arnold

Monday, April 13th, 2020

Red Hood

by Elana K. Arnold

Balzer + Bray, 2020. 353 pages.
Review written April 11, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Red Hood is an amazing and impressive book. It’s not a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, though you can almost think of it as standing the story on its head. And we do have wolves in the woods, a girl, and her grandmother.

But this girl in the woods is not prey, oh my, no! Instead she hunts down wolves – instinctively and fiercely.

For it turns out that sometimes, when there’s a full moon, men and boys turn into wolves. They attack and devour unsuspecting young women, who need a defender. Bisou turns out to be a ferocious defender.

But the book doesn’t begin that way. It begins with Bisou in the back of a truck, trying out sex with her boyfriend, whom she loves very much. But before the night is over, she’s in the woods alone, being attacked by a wolf – which she kills. The next morning, a boy is found dead in the woods where Bisou thought she left the wolf.

Now I loved Elana K. Arnold’s earlier book, Damsel. After going a little way into this book, I decided that both books were similar. Both books are very explicit about sex, almost clinically descriptive. Both books portray men cruelly exploiting women – but then meeting with vicious retribution – and that violent retribution is frighteningly satisfying.

However, by the time I was finished, I was super impressed with what the author pulled off here. Because not every boy turns into a wolf. Bisou has a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend, a loving and kind young man. There’s a point where Bisou has something to do having to do with hunting on a day when they usually have sex – and James is disappointed, but he doesn’t give her a hard time at all. I was waiting for it to all be a big trap and for him to turn into a wolf – and he remained a loving and kind person.

In fact, there’s another boy at their high school who harasses and abuses one of Bisou’s friends – and they deal with it without magical powers, and he never turns into a wolf. (I’m trying not to give spoilers. I don’t think this will ruin it for you.) I kept expecting every jerk to end up being a horrible wolf or the apparently loving individual to be a wolf at heart – and that just doesn’t happen here, and that impressed me.

What’s more, though the heroine of Damsel was basically alone, Bisou makes friends with other girls in this book. So as well as becoming a testament for girls standing up for themselves and standing against sexual violence, it also tells a beautiful story of the power of sisterhood and girls supporting each other as they do that standing.

I ended up so impressed with this book. It ends up being richly nuanced, telling a story of a girl gaining new powers to defend the weak against sexual violence, but not being alone as she navigates those new powers. It shows sexual violence as a horrible threat against women – but not a threat hiding in every man’s heart, and something that both men and women are willing to help destroy.

elanakarnold.com
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Pride, by Ibi Zoboi

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020

Pride

by Ibi Zoboi

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2018. 289 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 15, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 General Teen Fiction

This is a Pride and Prejudice “Remix,” set in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. I have lost count of how many Pride and Prejudice tributes I have read (Actually, that’s not quite true, since you can find links to all the ones I’ve reviewed on the page when I post this.) – and honestly, I’ve loved them all. This is no exception.

Zuri Benitez and her four sisters watch as a new family moves into the house across the street. It used to be run-down, but they’ve been renovating it for a year, and now it’s a mini-mansion. Ainsley and Darius Darcy are fine – but who are they to come strutting into the neighborhood thinking they’ll help it out? You guessed it – older sister Janae and Ainsley hit it off right away, but there are fireworks first between Zuri and Darius.

I got to thinking about Pride and Prejudice. It might seem obvious, because it’s right there in the title, but isn’t it all about respect? When someone smart, good-looking, and yes, rich, moves into town – who is he to think he’s better than the rest of us? The Elizabeth Bennets of the world – highly intelligent themselves and with a loving, close-knit family – deserve respect, too.

But maybe they’re a bit quick to believe they’re not getting it from the Mr. Darcys of the world.

The Pride and Prejudice story is universal because it’s about earning respect – and discovering that good-looking, rich man who has the world’s respect might actually be kind and sensitive and doing good things that go beyond the externals – he might actually deserve Elizabeth Bennet’s respect, too.

It’s also about culture clash. The guy who has made it in the predominant culture moving in near the metaphorical peasantry – and needing to learn to appreciate that their lives, too, have rich community around them.

Pride tells that universal story in a new setting, with a great big helping of delight. Zuri is an Elizabeth Bennet with attitude. She’s a poet, and I’m guessing she’s going to make it into Howard. Here’s a window into her process of discovering that Darius Darcy is more than externals, too.

ibizoboi.net
epicreads.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Frankly in Love, by David Yoon

Saturday, February 29th, 2020

Frankly in Love

by David Yoon
read by Raymond J. Lee

Listening Library, 2019. 10 hours on 8 compact discs
Review written December 30, 2019, from a library audiobook
2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Young Adult Literature Honor
2020 William C. Morris Award Finalist

2020 Capitol Choices Selection

Frank Li is a senior in high school whose parents came to America from Korea before he was born. His parents want him to marry a nice Korean girl, and they have someone in mind. They’ve stopped talking to Frank’s older sister because she married an African American man. Frank’s best friend Q is African American, and they don’t mind that, but they want their children to marry someone Korean.

This audiobook explores the expectations and assumptions Frank and his friends have to endure. I like the way Frank, who’s telling the story, describes white folks as “European Americans” – because that seems only fair.

Frank has grown up going to “Gatherings” – where his parents and other friends who came to America from Korea get together with their families. The kids call themselves the “Limbos” – because they’re not quite seen as American and not quite seen as Korean.

When Frank falls in love with a European American girl, he works out a fake dating arrangement with Joy Song, one of the Limbos who his parents are pushing him to spend time with. Joy has had a Chinese American boyfriend for years, but hasn’t told her parents. If she and Frank pretend to go on dates with each other, they have a cover for spending time with their own beloved.

The scheme seems simple, but neither one can quite bring themselves to tell their real date. And things rapidly get more complex.

This is a fun story with lots of poignant moments. This book makes you think about relationships, and not only romantic ones, but also relationships with friends and family.

DavidYoon.com
ListeningLibrary.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Toll, by Neal Shusterman

Monday, February 3rd, 2020

The Toll

Arc of a Scythe, Book 3

by Neal Shusterman

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 625 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 5, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 in Teen Fiction

I should not have checked this book out and taken it home when I was supposed to be reading Middle Grade Speculative Fiction for the Cybils Awards. But how could I possibly resist? Still… 625 pages! I could have read three middle grade books in the time it took to read this.

And I didn’t read it all at once. I used a couple of chapters of this book as a reward for doing my other reading, which actually worked surprisingly well – by this time in the series, the author had several threads going at once, so there were logical places to pause my reading.

Yes, you need to read this trilogy in order. Definitely. And I don’t want to give much away about the earth-shaking way Book 2 ended.

Amazingly, Neal Shusterman brought all the threads and all the characters to a satisfying conclusion. I was surprised how well he pulled it off.

This third book’s title character is the Toll – a prophet who’s arisen among the Tonist religion, the only one the Thunderhead will talk to, because the whole world is Unsavory. But there’s a lot going on beyond that – power has been seized by ruthless people. Scythes are supposed to kill a small percentage of people to keep the earth from becoming overpopulated. But they aren’t supposed to enjoy it.

Can the surviving main characters we’ve come to care about in this series do anything about the seizure of power by those who are evil? Can the Thunderhead do anything, despite the separation of scythe and state?

I am still amazed that Neal Shusterman was able to come up with satisfying affirmative answers to those questions.

This series makes you look at life and mortality and the human race with new eyes.

storyman.com
simonandschuster.com/teen

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Butterfly Yellow, by Thanhhà Lai

Monday, January 20th, 2020

Butterfly Yellow

by Thanhhà Lai

Harper, 2019. 284 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 2, 2020, from an advance reader copy picked up at ALA Annual Conference
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 in Teen Fiction

(I have to apologize. My web host doesn’t support the notations for the Vietnamese diacritics over ‘a’ and ‘e’. I carefully found the right symbol in Word, but it did not carry over when I copied it to my blog. I acknowledge that this is not the correct name for the main character without the diacritic symbol, nor is it the correct name for the country where she was born. It’s not even the correct last name of the author. I am sorry.)

Butterfly Yellow is set in summer 1981 in Texas, about a girl who has survived a harrowing journey from Viet Nam, including a traumatic journey on a boat where most of the other passengers, including her mother, died or were killed by pirates.

Now Hang is in Texas, staying with her uncle, who got to America before the war. But Hang is on a mission to find her brother, who was taken away from her six years ago, when he was five years old and she was twelve and tried to carry out a scheme.

In the final days of the war in April 1975, Hang thought she was so clever, devising a way to flee while her family strategized and worried. Every day newspapers printed stories about Americans panicking to save hundreds of orphans. There was even an official name, Operation Babylift. She assumed she and her brother would go first, then somehow her family would join them in America. But in line at the airport she was rejected, a twelve-year-old passing as eight. Linh was five, three to foreign eyes, just young enough to be accepted as an orphan. Hang saw little Linh thrashing as he was carried into a Pan Am.

By the time her brother was ripped from her, nobody cared to hear why she lied. With so many scrambling to flee before the victorious Communists marched in, one more screaming child was just that. An American volunteer with puffy, sweaty hands must have felt sorry for her. He pressed a card into her palm as he pushed her away from the ladder. Sun rays radiated through each strand of his mango-colored hair. She had to stop an impulse to extinguish the fiery puff of gold threads on his head. He was the last to board. Hang screamed until the Pan Am blended into the sky and left a long loose-curl cloud. For hours, until dusk enveloped her and mosquitoes chased her home, she focused skyward and pleaded for forgiveness. When she opened her palm, the card had disintegrated except for one clue: 405 Mesquite Street, Amarillo, Texas.

Hang’s mission, her one purpose now she is in America is to find her brother. That mission starts out on a bus, but when the bus’s motion, reminding her of the escape boat, makes her sick, the bus leaves without her. Her mission ends up entwining her fate with that of LeeRoy, a boy who is also eighteen and has left his home for the summer on a mission to ride in rodeos and be a cowboy.

When Hang does find her brother, he doesn’t remember her. And his American mother wants Hang nowhere near him. But Hang is going to find a way to stay as close as she can – and a lot of things happen to Hang, LeeRoy and Linh that eventful summer in Texas.

This book is beautifully written, from several different perspectives. One thing I love about it is how when Hang speaks in English, the phonetic spelling is given – but phonetic from the perspective of someone from Viet Nam, full of diacritic marks, and not using the same phonetics as an English-speaking person would use. The reader has to learn how to understand Hang and gradually figure out what she is trying to say. When she thinks or writes in Vietnamese, she is completely fluent, so the reader understands the difficulty of trying to communicate in a foreign language.

We gradually learn about the trauma Hang survived, both in Viet Nam and as she escaped from Viet Nam. It’s horrific, and explains why she covers herself up and hides even in the Texas summer and doesn’t even think of trying to look pretty.

This is a book of cross-cultural understanding, as well as a book of love and healing.

thanhhalai.com

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