Andy Nguyen is most definitely Australian, not Vietnamese. And yet his father insists they’re going “home” to Vietnam, somewhere Andy has never been. Andy’s Dad is Viet Kieu, a name given to Vietnamese-born immigrants who live in other countries around the world. Returning Viet Kieu have certain expectations placed on them for having been the lucky ones to have been able to leave.
For the first time in decades since he escaped the devastation and horrors of war in Vietnam, Andy’s father is finally coming home. But for Andy, the return is marked by culture shock … not to mention some disappointment. He can’t understand why his father has bought himself a new gold watch and ring which he knows his family can’t afford. He’s shocked to discover his Vietnamese family’s “famous” restaurant is hardly more than a shack. He’s surrounded by a language he only partially understands, and unfamiliar faces that only seem to demand more, more, more than what he and his father have already generously brought. But with the help of an enterprising young cousin, and a hefty dose of honesty from his father, Andy finally comes to understand his family history, and the love and dedication that binds them all together, even if he’s more Australian than not.
Author Starke, an award-winning writer in her native Australia, does an admirable job of enhancing her story with Vietnamese history and contemporary issues. Through Andy’s experiences, she shows the interaction between comparatively wealthy western tourists, and the native Vietnamese with a weekly median income that would not even pay for ice cream in a fancy tourist cafe. She gives glimpses of the life of the bui doi, literally the children of the dust, who live on the streets trying desperately to survive. She expertly weaves in the real-life group restaurant Koto – Know One Teach One – established by an Australian Viet Kieu, which gives street children the opportunity to get off the streets, learn a valuable trade, and hope for a better future.
She also includes a few tasty recipes at book’s end … good nutrition for both the tummy and soul.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2010 (United States)