“Based on the author’s husband’s own experiences, this is a vivid and lovingly drawn tale of people caught in the crossroads of history and struggling to retain both dignity and hope.” –Children’s Literature
“This is a moving story that breathes life into a chapter of twentieth-century history that may be little known to young readers.” –Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Vonlai knows that soldiers who guard the Mekong River shoot at anything that moves, but in oppressive Communist Laos, there’s nothing left for him, his spirited sister, Dalah, and his desperate parents. Their only hope is a refugee camp in Thailand—on the other side of the river.
When they reach the camp, their struggles are far from over. Na Pho is a forgotten place where life consists of squalid huts, stifling heat, and rationed food. Still, Vonlai tries to carry on as if everything is normal. He pays attention in school, a dusty barrack overcrowded with kids too hungry to learn. And, to forget his empty stomach, he plays soccer in a field full of rocks. But when someone inside the camp threatens his family, Vonlai calls on a forbidden skill to protect their future—a future he’s sure is full of promise, if only they can make it out of Na Pho alive.
Reviews & Accolades
“This compelling novel offers significant historical background. This is certainly a book to prompt purposeful discussion to increase historical and multicultural awareness.” –School Library Journal
“…refugee families and their friends everywhere will recognize the cruel dislocation, the interminable wait, and the search for home.” –Booklist
“The engaging characters keep the reader immersed from start to finish. This is a moving story that breathes life into a chapter of twentieth-century history that may be little known to young readers.” –Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Manivong has created a believable protagonist, and she does not shy away from depicting the difficult living conditions in the Na Pho refugee camp: There are many threats to Vonlai’s family, including the near-rape of his sister. Nor does the story default to an undilutedly happy ending—instead we come to care about characters who make unexpected decisions or who are left behind. Based on the author’s husband’s own experiences, this is a vivid and lovingly drawn tale of people caught in the crossroads of history and struggling to retain both dignity and hope.” –Children’s Literature
“Basing the story on her husband’s childhood experiences, the author documents the refugees’ harrowing plight in riveting episodes that capture the hardships endured by these too-often forgotten people and also illustrate Vonlai’s difficult coming of age. A sad afterword that pairs perfectly with the fictionalized tale summarizes the real-life experiences of Anousone Manivong, adding further depth to an already moving tale. Essential.” –Kirkus Reviews
Refugee life, survival, immigration, sibling relationships, family relationships
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