A highly witty and topical read—an impressive debut.

A high school Latin teacher and tattoo artist’s memoir about immigrating to small-town America from Vietnam and learning to fit in through reading, skateboarding, and punk rock.

Tran and his parents fled Saigon as war refugees in 1975, and they eventually settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There, they became the lone Asians in a town that “offered all the rainbows of Caucasia.” Local children taunted Tran throughout childhood while neighbors and co-workers saw his parents as amusing curiosities or “symbols of a painful and confusing war…of the people who had shot at them and killed their friends, brothers, and sons.” As he neared adolescence, Tran decided that he could solve his problems by trying to “be less Asian.” First, he developed “social Teflon” by earning top grades in all his classes, deciding that he “would take nerd props over no props at all.” He further learned to deemphasize his otherness by joining the skateboarding subculture as a young teen and adopting a punk persona. Even though he was a good student, however, the author sometimes came up short of parental expectations for perfection, with excruciatingly painful results. During his junior year of high school, he stumbled across a guide to classic literary texts touted as “the foundation for being ‘all-American.’ ” Eager to assimilate, Tran immersed himself in works like The Metamorphosis and The Importance of Being Earnest. He became more self-reflective and developed an unexpected passion for books, which he highlights by naming each chapter after a favorite work of literature (Madame BovaryPygmalion, etc.). At the suggestion of a history teacher, Tran read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which heightened his awareness of white racism toward Asians and of the racism he saw in his own father toward blacks. Funny, poignant, and unsparing, Tran’s sharp, sensitive, punk-inflected memoir presents one immigrant’s quest for self-acceptance through the lens of American and European literary classics.

A highly witty and topical read—an impressive debut.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-19471-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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