This novel written in verse tells the story of Ha and her family as they flee Saigon and come to America. It is a story of survival and struggle. It is beautifully written and the sparseness of the verse makes the story that much more poignant. In Saigon, Ha’s family listens to the bombs fall daily, they wait for a father’s return even though they fear he is gone forever. They are smart and capable people in Saigon. Then one day they decide to leave on a Navy ship as Saigon is falling to the Communists. They arrive in America and are sponsored by a family in Alabama. Life in America is not easy. They do not know the language and are considered dumb; they are teased and taunted by their peers. They had to leave everything they knew behind.
I think the fact that this book is written in verse makes it that much more powerful. I don’t think the story would have resonated as much if it was written in a traditional manner. Lai is able to convey every emotion and heartache of the family’s journey through the verse as well as their hope for their future. It is a powerful book on a powerful subject. This is a very fast read, but you really do want to take your time and pour over the language.