Review Blog

Jun 08 2010

Thai-Riffic! by Oliver Phommavanh

cover image

Penguin, 2010. ISBN: 9780143304852.
(Recommended for ages 10+) Having spent his primary school years being taunted about his heritage and the fact that his parents own the Thai-Riffic! Restaurant, Albert Lengviriyakul begins high school. After being late on his first day, and meeting his new teacher, Mr. Winfree, who has a menagerie of stuffed toys, Albert has to re-asses his opinions after he is given the nickname, Lengy. For the first time ever, he thinks that maybe he could achieve his dreams of blending in and becoming more Aussie. It seems, however, that this will never happen. The whole class suddenly seems to develop a liking for his parents' cooking and their restaurant, while all Lengy wants is to escape this and go out for a pizza. Things seem to go from bad to worse as his best friend decides that they should study Thai culture for their major assignment of the term.
Phommavanh displays his understanding of children, and uses a great deal of humour in telling Lengy's story. I continued to wonder just how much of the novel was based on the author's own experiences at school both as a student and a teacher. I was amused to find a picture on his blog which showed him in his teaching days, drowning in a sea of toys. This is an entertaining read which should appeal to students from middle primary and up and could also be utilised as a shared class novel to discuss such issues as friendship, family, Australian identity, belonging and also the importance of accepting one's own history. (A quick search proved that there is such a beast as Thai-Riffic in Newtown and that it served as the venue for one of the book's launches. I'd love the chance to eat there and compare!)
Jo Schenkel

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