BUTTERFLY YELLOW, by Thanhha Lai, HarperCollins, Sept. 3, 2019, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
I’ve read a number of very good young adult novels as of late, but Thanhha Lai’s Butterfly Yellow is ahead of the pack.
Butterfly Yellow looks at the aftermath of the Vietnam War. At the center of the story is Hằng, a young girl in Vietnam who takes her little brother, Linh, the airport in the final days of the war. Hằng is determined to find a way to get them both to America. But while Linh qualifies for the trip, Hằng is deemed too old and left behind.
It takes six years, but Hằng finally makes it to Texas as a refugee. She’s determined to find her lost brother with only a worn business card as a clue. Her luck changes when Hằng meets LeeRoy, a city boy who dreams of becoming a rodeo star.
With LeeRoy’s help, Hằng finds her brother, but Linh doesn’t remember her. Hằng won’t give up, though, and has a few tricks up her sleeve. After six years of anguish and a brutal journey from Vietnam, Hằng will stop at nothing to make Linh remember.
Butterfly Yellow packs an emotional punch, one that you might not expect from the outset. It starts out mirroring its characters with a sort of an austere almost cold feel to it. As the characters evolve, warmth takes hold, and by the end it feels as if the entire novel is embraced by it.
Hằng and LeeRoy are opposite sides of the coin that truly balance each other. Butterfly Yellow would not work without either of them. In particular, LeeRoy’s ability to translate Hằng’s Vietnamese English helps not only the reader but the other characters move forward.
Butterfly Yellow is the first book I’ve read by Lai, but it certainly won’t be the last. It’s one of my favorite YA reads of 2019 and unlike anything I’ve read before.
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