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by Pegi Deitz Shea


School Library Journal:

Gr 6-9 –Mai, 13, is practicing her English in eager anticipation of leaving the crowded Thai refugee camp where she and her grandmother have lived for 10 years. Her parents were killed in Laos and her grandmother carried her across the river to Thailand. As their departure for America nears, Grandma is withdrawn and always stitching away at her pa’ndau (story cloth). Mai yearns for the life her cousins write about, a land of skyscrapers, Coke, and plenty of food, but her arrival in Rhode Island brings mixed reactions. Her cousins have become rebellious, Americanized teens. Her aunt and uncle half-heartedly embrace Hmong tradition while feeling indebted to Christian charity. Grandma’s confusion over the day-to-day navigation through social-service agencies, stores, even church bazaars, makes her increasingly reliant on her granddaughter. Mai’s efforts to respect her beloved grandmother and all she represents are at odds with the allure of new friends and an exciting lifestyle. This bittersweet story balances social and intellectual pursuits against the strained relations of a family tapping roots into a new homeland, and it shows the emotions behind weighing cultural affiliations against the sway of progress and prosperity. Adding to the growing ranks of contemporary novels about today’s diverse immigration experiences, it would work well in conjunction with Fran Buss’s Journey of the Sparrows (Dell, 1993), Linda Crew’s Children of the River (Laurel-Leaf, 1991), and An Na’s A Step from Heaven (Front St., 2001). A good choice for classes studying refugees, multicultural diversity, immigration, Hmong Americans, Laos, and the Vietnam War.–Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY –Alison Follos (Reviewed November 1, 2003) (School Library Journal, vol 49, issue 11, p148)


6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, Cultural Differences, Identity, Refugee Camp, Teen