Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Erika L. Sanchez, this gorgeously written and deeply moving own voices novel is the YA debut from the award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again. 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.
However, the five year old she last saw is now gone, replaced by an older boy who does not seem to remember her. War and the post-war problems have ravaged their family, and Hang is still haunted by the things that happened. As the book goes on, we see not only her history and efforts at reuniting with her brother, Linh (now David), but also the horrors that she has seen in her life.
Hang is accompanied by LeeRoy, a boy who wants to be a cowboy and is taking the summer to try out rodeos. LeeRoy was somewhat coerced into taking her with him, but since then, he has been growing closer to her. While Hang's story is certainly at the forefront of the book, LeeRoy is a solid secondary character that becomes linked with Hang in a minor romantic plot.
What I loved: This is a truly unique story, and Hang's story leaps off the pages. It is fully engrossing. She has experienced a great deal of trauma, which is slowly revealed to the reader. As such, I think this is a valuable book about war and what follows as well as about the Vietnam War. Emotion is heavily carried through the book, and this is a truly beautiful (and heavy) read for that reason.
What left me wanting more: I would have liked to have more of David/Linh's perspective and to learn more about his life. He is very slow to even consider talking to Hang, which makes sense, but leaves us with mostly her guilt and efforts without understanding about the opposite side. As a small point, the romance was a little tertiary, and I felt like it needed to be enhanced a bit more to really get into it.
Final verdict: A moving and heartfelt read, this is a compelling story about war, mistakes, family, and loss. Would recommend for anyone looking for a engaging Vietnam War-era read and/or a story about reuniting with family and healing.