I'm continually impressed with the titles Pajama Press puts out, and this book is no exception.
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch first wrote the picture book Adrift at Sea which detailed the story of Van's brother, mother and two sisters’ escape from Vietnam and was a 2018-2019 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice 3-5th grade nominee. However, when the family emigrated, Van Ho and her Grandmother were left behind. Too Young to Escape continues the family's saga from the perspective of four-year-old Van.
As a writer, I was particularly impressed with the strong voice. Skrypuch beautifully captured the perspective of a young child. The voice is simple and believable. This sounds easy, but it's rarely done as well as this. We see the world through the child protagonist's eyes as opposed to the more common omniscient third person. The result is a more intimate, immediate story easily accessible to young readers.
At the end of the book are interviews with both Van Ho and her mother. This was a well-deployed device to allow the adult perspective, which would be unavailable to the young narrator at the time. By structuring the book this way, we're able to get a fuller picture of the family's experience while remaining true to the main character's voice and age in the story. I highly recommend this story of immigration for all middle grade readers.
As a mother, I thought the story was compelling, and a wonderful window into another culture and life experience. The plot moves quickly and steadily without any draggy sections. This would be a great class read for social studies, particularly with a focus on immigration.
During the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Van wakes up one morning to find that her mother, sister, Loan, and brother, Tuan, are gone. They have escaped the new communist regime that has taken over Ho Chi Minh City for freedom in the West. Four-year-old Van is too young - and her grandmother is too old - for such a dangerous journey by boat, so the two have been left behind. Once settled in North America, her parents will eventually be able to sponsor them, and Van and her grandmother will fly away to safety. But in the meantime, Van is forced to work hard to satisfy her aunt and uncle, who treat her like an unwelcome guest. And at school she must learn that calling attention to herself is a mistake, especially when the bully who has been tormenting her turns out to be the son of a military policeman.
Van Ho's true story strikes at the heart and will resonate with so many families affected by war, where so many children are forced to live under or escape from repressive regimes.
Pick up a copy at your local library, favorite bookstore, or order online from IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com