Review: Too Young to Escape

Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press, 2018

On a May morning, four-year-old Van wakes up to discover her family is gone — a nightmare for any child. But this is a nightmare from which Van cannot awake. After a day of confusion and misdirection, she learns the truth: her mother and siblings have followed her father and her sister to Canada to escape from the Communist government in Vietnam. Because Van is so young, she has been left behind, in care of her grandmother, until the family can afford to send for both of them.

From this terrifying moment, the story unfolds chronologically. Van is a guest in her aunt and uncle’s home and must work every day before and after school to help keep the household solvent. She is harassed by a bullying boy whose father is a member of the military police. She is ill and must take medicine regularly, but medicine is costly and so Van often has little to eat and no new clothes. All she can do is wait until she is old enough to leave the country and rejoin her family — and if that day ever comes, will she be able to forgive her mother for leaving her behind?

Too Young to Escape is a compelling story about the aftermath of war for children. Van is not the only child abandoned by her family, she discovers, nor is she the only one who has suffered. The fact that this book is memoir, not fiction, leaves tantalizing gaps in the story, only partly filled by interviews with Van Ho’s mother and father in the back matter. (The pictures of Van and her family will add immediacy to the reading experience.) Sensitive readers will be moved, and possibly shocked, by the challenges Van faces — but also reassured by her resilience and compassion.

Too Young to Escape offers a piercing firsthand account of the conflict in Vietnam, which continues to resonate in popular culture decades later. The book’s plucky young protagonist adds a diverse voice to a literature that continues, regrettably, to be necessary for today’s readers.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, December 2018.

 

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A willing subject

If you are an editor, a grammarian, or just someone who enjoys the quirks of the English language, you’re sure to like Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris. I was happily surprised by the great good humour and the tidy fusion of editing memoir and language instruction. Kudos, Ms Norris!

There is no way a single sentence could sum up the many delights of this book, yet one lovely clause keeps ringing through my memory:

Parentheses often act like giant commas, and commas like tiny parentheses. (p. 103)

Graceful, yes? A nice use of rhetorical schemes, without being ostentatious, and a fine, compact observation. The book is full of such gems. Such a pleasure!

Source: Mary Norris, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2015).