The story and the writing are beautiful and poignant, but Thanhha Lai went so much further with her story. She pulled off what only the best of storytellers are able to do and made me (a middle-class, American-raised, mostly caucasian girl) identify with her main character, a Vietnamese refugee.
Maybe "identify" isn't really the best choice of words. The author made me remember my friend from high school, also a Vietnamese refugee. People treated her as if she was stupid and as if she didn't exist, because of her broken English and her second-hand clothing. But she ended up in my Physics class as my lab partner. I was working my tail off, trying to figure out the lab, and I so ignorantly discounted everything my lab partner was trying to contribute. She must have been getting frustrated, because I couldn't understand what she was trying to say. But she remained patient and polite.
It turned out that I was going about things completely wrong. Thank goodness I finally let her help me, because she truly saved us from failing the lab assignment. I can vividly remember our eyes meeting during that moment of realization! We couldn't stop laughing and we became friends after that. I still have the doll she gave me from Vietnam.
Oh, and it turned out she had lived in a French-speaking country briefly, after she fled Vietnam. So she was translating everything from Vietnamese --into French --and then into English.
Thanhha Lai: Congratulations on your well-deserved awards. And thank you for reminding us to read the beautifully written pages, and not just glance quickly at the cover.