Three years after the fall of Saigon, 13-year-old Yen, her mother, and her four siblings are barely getting by in a small village on the Mekong Delta.
With little to eat and even littler hope of a better life under the oppressive Viet Cong government, Ma decides to flee from Vietnam with her five children. Yen and Ma sell their possessions and visit friends and family in preparation, encountering both the kindness and the hardness in people along the way. Debut author Tran-Davies does not shy away from the terrible realities of postwar Vietnam, including poverty, corruption, and violence, but the worst atrocities are alluded to with little detail. This may reduce trauma for readers without background knowledge, but the deliberate obfuscation results in choppy, sometimes confusing, narrative flow with uneven pacing. Packed into the last 30 or so pages is Yen’s entire flight out of Vietnam, her narration hurrying past such horrors as getting packed into the hold of a fishing boat for over a week with no food, a pirate attack that includes off-page rapes of several girls, and the capsizing of the boat and the drowning of countless refugees before the few survivors are rescued.
Though the events of the book are based on history and will be all too familiar to those who have lived through similar trauma, some may feel dissatisfied with the bleak narrative, which leaves much unexplained and very little hope. (afterword, glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-13)