Summary and book reviews of Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow

by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez X
Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2020, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winner of the 2019 BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel

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.

Brittle Brown Ocean

On the bus, Hằng stares into the endless expanse. She concentrates on even inhales, then slow exhales. Nibbling on ginger, she's determined to soothe the relentless stirrings of nausea as her intestines coil into eels.

Fiery ginger flashes down and quiets the eels. She sharpens her stare. Having flown in from a refugee camp yesterday, she's already on her way to A-ma-ri-lo. Never mind that her inner clock still clicks thirteen hours ahead. Never mind that her uncle will be chasing her. Never mind that she can barely speak English and can understand only half of a sentence.

The other passengers spit out words in a hissy, snaky language. How they talk, and sing and hum, and eat, how they eat. An explosion of cheer and chemicals: sweet, tangy, salty, bubbly, crispy, oniony. None of it helps her nausea.

They must see her as strange. A jagged-hair girl cocooned in long sleeves, heavy pants. Meanwhile they dress for the beach. This, despite vents blowing such ...

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  • award image

    BookBrowse Awards
    2019

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Butterfly Yellow, the young adult debut of Thanhhà Lai, previously of children's literature, offers all of that and more. Born from the ashes of the Vietnam War, it gently, poetically reminds us that the current national clamor and debate over immigrants and refugees arriving in the United States is nothing new. The book is not overtly political, though; Lai is more interested in exhibiting human kindness and understanding...continued

Full Review (638 words).

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(Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[I]n this radiant pearl of a book, Lai shows that we human beings — fragile or strong, saved or doomed, frightened or brave, and sometimes all of those things at once — are singing the very same song: a song of grace and redemption, a song of courage, a song of hope.

NPR
Butterfly Yellow is so vivid and specific in its details, but truly, the power of this book is in its depiction of that universal hope of being able to find a new place to feel safe after everything has been torn apart. Timely, brutal, and full of love for life, Butterfly Yellow is a book for the times we’re living in.

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
L?i writes with charm and spark, and she is especially original in her conveyance of H?ng’s limited English. H?ng remains resilient and purposeful, characteristics that make her compelling and even heroic. Ultimately, this is a bittersweet yet hopeful story of letting go and finding new ways to come together.

School Library Journal
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.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Every sentence is infused with warmth, and Lai shows readers that countless moments of grace exist even in the darkest times. Masterfully conjures grace, beauty, and humor out of the tragic wake of the Vietnam War.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Told with ample grace, Lai's finely drawn narrative and resilient characters offer a memorable, deeply felt view of the Vietnam War's impact.

Booklist (starred review)
L?i's imagery awakens the senses. Most powerful is the deep throb of regret and the thinnest wisps of hopefulness that L?i conveys throughout. They touch the soul.

Author Blurb Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer
Thanhha Lai's Butterfly Yellow artfully blends comedy and tragedy in a deeply moving story about refugees, siblings, and youthful dreams. For someone who wants to know more about the Vietnamese refugee experience—or how to be a cowboy—this taut novel is a great place to start.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Acevedo, New York Times bestselling and National Book Award winning author of The Poet X
Lai is a master of storytelling, and this tale will have you wanting to hug close every character even while you cheer for them to fly.

Author Blurb Matt de la Peña, New York Times and Newbery Medal winning author of The Last Stop on Market Street
Butterfly Yellow is a beautiful, poetic story of unlikely friendship and grit and determination. H?ng is an unforgettable character. And Thanhhà L?i is one of the finest writers of our time.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Operation Babylift

Vietnamese babies resting in Pan Am duffel bags on an airplaneIn April 1975, thousands of American troops, civilians and South Vietnamese refugees were frantically airlifted out of Saigon, representing the end of American military involvement in the Vietnam War. The images of the rescue were seared into the public consciousness.

The U.S. government felt that something good had to come out of all those years of conflict — a public relations nightmare — or at least, it had to look like something good had come. There were plenty of orphans in potential peril once South Vietnam was overtaken by the Viet Cong, and wouldn't their lives be better if they had a chance to start anew in the United States?

President Gerald Ford, acting on a plea from New York's Cardinal Terrence Cooke for ...

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