In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.
Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn't know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her. Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn't remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.
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After the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War, hundreds of children were airlifted from Vietnam to the United States. Hang saw to it that her three-year-old brother Linh was one of these children, though at the airport she’s shocked to discover she’s too old to accompany him. Six years later, 18-year-old Hang arrives in Texas, where her uncle and his family live, carrying an address, the only connection she has to her brother. Although her uncle promises that he will take her to the address in Amarillo, she cannot wait. She catches a bus and eventually a ride with LeeRoy, who is headed to Amarillo to meet his rodeo hero. When they arrive, Linh does not remember her and wants nothing to do with her. LeeRoy and Hang get jobs at a neighboring ranch where she tries to connect with her brother and LeeRoy tries to learn how to be a cowboy. Hang and LeeRoy, as well as the other main characters, have complex personalities that often clash. Hang’s English dialogue, written in Vietnamese syllables, has to be sounded out by readers and can be difficult to interpret, though it becomes clearer when LeeRoy repeats what she says. The plot has a nice blend of external and internal action although some knowledge of the Vietnam War would make for better understanding of Hang’s trauma. While this is not Lai’s strongest book, the universal truths about the lingering aftermath of war make it one that will find readers.
During the 1975 fall of Saigon, twelve-year-old Hă’ng determines that she and her younger brother, Linh, should escape to America. They attempt to impersonate orphans to join Operation Babylift, but the refugee workers reject Hă’ng, taking three-year-old Linh and leaving her behind, with only the address of his destina-tion in Texas. For six years she plans to join him, and, after enduring a harrowing and horrific boat trip (revealed in tense flashbacks), Hă’ng arrives in Texas. She has one goal: to find her brother. Upon arrival she meets rodeo star wannabe LeeRoy, who grudgingly agrees to take her to Linh, now a thoroughly American-ized boy called David, with no memory of Hă’ng and no interest in reuniting. One strength of the novel is the subtle character development as both LeeRoy and Hă’ng grow naturally from single-issue actors to individuals who recognize and respond to the complexities of both themselves and those around them. Another is La.i’s use of language. When Hă’ng speaks in English, La.i represents her speech phonetically, forcing the reader to become both listener and decipherer, an equally engaged but sometimes frustrated partner in her quest for “mai bo,`-ró-đo,` [my brother].” Initially Hă’ng’s limited English isolates her, but as she becomes more proficient in the language, she expands her outlook and her circle of friends. LeeRoy says: “She’s got a story, that’s for sure, and I for one aim to hear it.” Those who do hear her remarkable tale can additionally think about contemporary con-nections to immigrant experiences, feelings of being an outsider, and the detours one’s life may take