My parents grew up during the Việt Nam War, and one of the stories I’ll always remember is how my mother and sister reunited with their half-brother after the war was over. Despite haven’t never met in person, they knew he was their brother because he looked just like their father. My mother and aunt’s story is just one of countless stories to come from those who were impacted by the Vietnam War. In Thanhhà Lại’s Butterfly Yellow, we have the story of Hằng who finally has made her way to America and is desperate to reunite with her younger brother, Linh.
Known for her award-winning middle grade novels, Butterfly Yellow is Thanhhà Lại’s foray into YA fiction. As it was my first book by this authour I was unsure what to expect, however I was eager to get my hands on it as I love supporting Vietnamese voices. Unfortunately, I found that Butterfly Yellow was not for me. Most of the novel felt more middle grade than young adult to me with the exception of the main subject of the book and LeeRoy’s little “problem”. I also found it difficult to connect with several parts of the book as Hằng’s broken English was confusing and it distracted me from whatever was happening when she spoke as I was too busy trying to decipher what she was saying. I can, however appreciate how realistic it was to have Hằng’s dialogue written this way as it does an excellent job at showing her limited English abilities and the struggles that come from it.
I also appreciated the detail that went into describing the events leading to Hằng’s “Extreme Trauma” status. My favourite sections of the book were the chapters that showed us what life was for Hằng during and post the Việt Nam War, in addition to the backstories of characters such as the old man who lets Hằng and LeeRoy work on his farm for money as well as the woman whom Linh/David calls his “mama”. Although those sections weren’t labelled so it took a minute or so before I was able to recognize whose chapter it was.
At its heart and underneath all of Butterfly Yellow’s awkwardness is an important story that hasn’t been told in fiction compared to other major historical events. Yet in the end, Butterfly Yellow fell flat for me because in spite of its heartfelt and engrossing moments I wanted more. I would’ve liked to see Hằng and Linh/David more developed as characters and if I were being honest less of LeeRoy wouldn’t be awful. Nevertheless, this book about healing, resilience and family may speak to anyone looking for a young adult novel about war and trauma.
Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.