CHILDREN OF THE RIVER by Linda Crew
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CHILDREN OF THE RIVER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In a powerful first novel, a Cambodian teen-ager struggles to embrace an American future while respecting her cultural traditions. It's 1979--four years after fleeing the Khmer Rouge with her uncle's family--and Sundara (17) still doesn't know what happened to her own immediate family. She is haunted by happy childhood memories and by the tragic news on TV and in the written pleas for help that arrive daily from Cambodia; she tries to balance the past with the confident, prosperous way of her new life in Willamette, Oregon. Racked by guilt over the death of an infant cousin during the desperate flight, Sundara refuses to allow herself ""mistakes""; but the rules at home and at school are so different that she always feels like an outsider. Though both custom and her strict aunt forbid social contact with young men, her friendship with schoolmate Jonathan McKinnon is too valuable to give up: not just a handsome superachiever, Jonathan finds that Sundara's story awakens not only his concern for her people but also his regard for her. Sundara has splendid inner resources: relentless energy, quick wit, and a profound courage that rarely wavers (admitting to Jonathan that she has not cried in four years, she says, ""I start to cry, I think maybe I never stop""; but when she finally does, her expressed grief proves healing not only for her but for the aunt who has acted as an over-stern mother to her). With clarity and ease, Crew tackles difficult ideas like racial prejudice within the Cambodian community or the different ways that recent immigrants respond to clashes between American values and their own. Meanwhile, Sundara's imperfect, poetic English (""Cannot talk is like a prison. Cannot make a new life"") sounds authentic, as do the many details that make this moving story so rich, its characters so fully realized. A book to change readers' eyes and hearts.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1989
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Delacorte