Carolyn Marsden is the author of several acclaimed novels for young readers. She says, "In January 2005, I traveled in Vietnam with a Buddhist delegation led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The people I met and the stories I heard in Vietnam inspired this story of Binh." Carolyn Marsden lives in La Jolla, California.
Gr 3-5-Vietnamese and American cultural assumptions are woven seamlessly into the plot in this accessible and inviting story. Nine-year-old Binh is fascinated to know that she has an American aunt, who at age five was sent to the U.S. as part of Operation Babylift. Now Di, 35, comes to Vietnam to visit her birth mother and other relatives. Binh knows that all Americans are rich and imagines her aunt taking her home with her to live in the house that looks so enormous in photos. Binh, too poor to attend school, is embarrassed to tell her aunt that she helps her family eke out a living by selling fruit from a cart, and Di knows little of Vietnamese culture. With some final, brave efforts at communicating, Binh finally helps Di sort out what is and isn't offensive in Vietnam, and the tension is dispelled. Direct language, a balance of simple and complex sentences, and a generous use of white space will pull in younger readers, giving them more depth than is typical in early chapter books. Despite unfamiliar words and a rather large cast of characters, the story of Binh and her family shines through the spare text, creating a welcome chance to experience another culture. Pair this with Andrea Warren's Escape from Saigon (Farrar, 2004) for a nonfiction look at the same topic.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Marsden (The Gold-Threaded Dress) once again mingles two cultures, but less successfully here than in her previous books. The story unfolds primarily through the third-person perspective of nine-year-old Binh, who sells fruit and soda from a cart in her Vietnamese village. In the second chapter, she learns that her maternal grandmother, Ba Ngoai, has another daughter, Thao, fathered by an American soldier. To save Thao's life after the Communists won the Vietnam War, Ba Ngoai sent her to America 30 years earlier, when the child was five. Now Thao is coming to visit, and Binh and her family imagine all the presents this presumably rich American will bring. But Thao brings only several small gifts, such as a pair of bookends-put to use as doorstops since the family owns no books. While in her previous books Marsden integrated exotic cultural details smoothly into the text, here the narrative turns jarringly expository at times ("The highway was lined with the red and yellow satin banners of the Communist government. Some banners had a yellow star, others a hammer and sickle"). Still, Binh witnesses some poignant scenes, such as when Thao confides that she initially had a difficult time in the U.S., "I wasn't Vietnamese anymore... And I didn't feel American either." The characters-save Binh-may remain curiously at a distance, but Marsden brings her tale to a satisfying close. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.