Review Blog

Mar 19 2020

Butterfly yellow by Thanhha Lai

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University of Queensland Press, 2020. ISBN: 9780702262890.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Dedicated to the unknowable number of refugees at the bottom of the sea, Butterfly yellow tells the story of Hang, a young Vietnamese girl making her way across Texas, searching for the last remaining member of her family, her young brother Linh who as a toddler was airlifted to America following the Vietnam War. As she trudges across the dry landscape of Texas in long sleeved high necked clothes covering the faint red scar lines that score her body, her path crosses with a young man, Lee Roy, a wannabe cowboy with a droopy moustache, seeking out rodeo excitement. Hang has only a crumpled card with an address, handed to her many years ago by the American who took her brother, and she longs to be reunited with the young child she remembers and loves so much. She is fiercely determined; having endured a horrendous experience as a refugee boat person, her case file labelled Extreme Trauma, details that are only gradually revealed as we learn more about her past.
This is a poignant but heart-warming story of the slow development of trust and friendship between the Vietnamese refugee and the naive cowboy. Lee Roy is by Hang's side, initially reluctant, but then patient and kind, as her Americanised brother rejects any memory of her. And the people around them, each in their own way, help the young friends to find a way to a better future.
The writing is beautiful, and very poetic. Hang's forays into English are captured with Vietnamese tonal typography, and the reader is grateful for Lee Roy's ear for the accent and his interpretations of her words. It is a very realistic portrayal of the struggles to understand different sounds and language structures. But their differences melt when Lee Roy is astounded to discover that old Clint Eastwood movies and rap poetry are a shared connection between them.
In the end it is a positive story of people overcoming hardship, overcoming differences, building better understanding, friendships and a new future.
Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Themes: Refugees, Vietnam War, Language, Friendship.
Helen Eddy

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