When 4-year-old Van wakes one morning in her home in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, her mother and siblings are gone. They have fled the country without a word, leaving a heartsick Van and her grandmother behind.
The year is 1981. The communists are in power, and Van’s family has not only lost everything, but has come under suspicion for helping the Americans during the Vietnam War. Bà Ngoai, Van’s grandmother, explains that the journey to find Van’s father and oldest sister in Canada was too dangerous for little Van, but she will be reunited with them someday. With simple but engaging language, Skrypuch (The War Below, 2018, etc.) recounts Van Ho’s true story of her lonely and hard life in Vietnam during the years she was separated from her family. Skrypuch offers readers myriad opportunities to identify with Van, who navigates school, friendship, bullying, and poverty, while also giving them insight into less-common American experiences such as political oppression and asylum. The story covers four years of Van’s life, including her reunion with parents and siblings in Canada and the immediate culture shock of arriving. Endmatter (photographs and interviews with other family members) provides more context and emotional insight. The book is labeled nonfiction, but Skrypuch’s author’s note describes the process of filling in gaps in the adult Ho’s memories of her decades-old trauma.
This illuminating chapter book respects an often overlooked demographic, providing transitioning readers a truthful yet age-appropriate introduction to big issues that still affect people to this day. (Historical fiction. 7-11)