Thanhha Lai, Author
Harper Collins Children, Fiction, 2011
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: Vietnamese Americans, Immigration, Refugees, Alabama, Resilience
Synopsis from Book Jacket: For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only know Saigon: The thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by…and the beauty of her very own papaya tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape…and the strength of her very own family. This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
Why I like this book: Thanhha Lai has written the story of Ha, in short free verse narrative, which is exquisitely executed. Her images are both rich and humorous. It was the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. This is a remarkable story based on Thanhha Lai’s own vivid childhood memories of fleeing Saigon and sailing to a strange new country. She vividly captures Ha’s rich and confusing emotional life. In Vietnam she’s an outstanding student. In America Ha is put into a lower grade because she can’t speak English. She feels dumb. There are so many rules in English that make absolutely no sense to Ha. She says “Whoever invented English,/ should be bitten/ by a snake.” Ha is humiliated after the class claps for her when she recites the ABC’s and counts to twenty. “I’m furious,/ unable to explain,/ I already learned/fractions/and how to purify river water./So this is/ what dumb feels like./ I hate, hate, hate it.” This is a story about the resilience of the feisty spirit of a child told with such simplicity.
Resource: You may be interested in reading an interview with Thanhha Lai when she won the 2011 National Book Award.