Butterfly Yellow

Butterfly Yellow
Written by Thanhhà Lai
Historical Fiction, Cultural, Diverse, Friendship
296 Pages
Published March 3rd 2020
Thank you to UQP
Add to Goodreads
★★★★★
Hằng doesn’t believe in adventures.

There are steps that must be done, and once done, another step awaits. The last step, after six years of minute planning by her grandmother, is a bus ride away. In Amarillo her baby brother has to be waiting. In her imaginings, he is always waiting.

National Book Award and Newbery Honor winning author Thanhhà Lại makes her young adult debut in this deeply moving story of courage, redemption, friendship, family and new beginnings.
The conflict in Việt Nam created impoverished conditions, families malnourished, communities decimated as the communist government occupied Southern Việt Nam. Hằng has escaped Việt Nam, her journey as an asylum seeker harrowing as she is resettled with her uncle Chú Quốc and her cousins in the American South. As the conflict in Việt Nam concluded, authorities begun evacuating orphans from Saigon. Hằng and her brother Linh prepared for evacuation among the children experiencing the devastation of losing their families. Their mother and grandmother sacrificing to provide the children with safe passage amidst the conflict.

A young girl only twelve years of age, Hằng was denied passage, Linh forcibly removed from his sister and taken onboard for evacuation. Hằng returning to their small Việt Nam village devastated and grieving for her brother. In his absence, his grandmother became inflicted with illness, his father passing, believing his son was abducted. Hằng has endured famine and conflict as a young woman evading the attention of soldiers settled within the community.

Tens of millions of communities around the world are displaced, seeking asylum from persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations within their native countries. In Australia, where many refugees from Việt Nam were brought, our human rights violations are deplorable, denying those seeking asylum refuge. Hằng and her mother boarded a small, crowded fishing vessel en voyage to find Linh. Their journey is fraught with uncertainty, dangerous conditions on a small ramshackle vessel unable to elude pirates on the open waters. Passengers slain, women and girls captured, Hằng disguised as a young boy, surviving as a nonthreatening figure and disregarded.

Arriving in Dallas, Hằng is homed with her uncle Chú Quốc and his family, Vietnamese Americans living affluent lives. The contrast between Hằng and her cousin, both of Vietnamese descent is immense. Hằng isn't consumed by material possessions, she's fixated with finding Linh and although her uncle suggests seeking legal advice, Hằng journeys alone to retrieve her brother.

Leeroy is an aspiring cowboy, modelling himself on a local legendary rodeo champion and travelling the infamous Panhandle in search of the American dream despite his parents insistence on attending college. Ambushed by an Christian couple on Southern hospitality, Leeroy is coerced to accompany a destitute Hằng to her brothers last known address. An unlikely and tentative companionship begins as the two young adults find employment as ranch hands on a sprawling homestead neighbouring Linh and his adoptive mother, his horse lodging at the ranch. It's a precarious situation, Linh or David as he's now known, is twelve years old and seemingly remembers little from Việt Nam, including Hằng. Hằng's intensity is balanced by Leeroy's humour and carefree attitude, David and Leeroy developing an easy rapport while Hằng observes from a distance.

Hằng's narrative is heartachingly tender. Her journey unravels to reveal her ordeal, the traumatic circumstances of leaving Việt Nam, losing her family, losing her brother, the traumatisation she endures in silence. Hằng's character is based on a photograph Thanhhà Lai encountered of a young girl at a Buddhist temple she visited, photographs of lives lost. Her journey is distressing and confronting, encouraging readers to examine our privileges. Although Butterfly Yellow is a fictional narrative of the refugee experience, it represents the precarious and volatile conditions in which those seeking asylum are escaping. Encouraging compassion and understanding throughout the western world. A remarkable and thought provoking read that will ignite discussion.

Achingly beautiful.

10 comments

  1. This sounds like a beautiful story, Kelly. And it’s interesting that the author was obviously moved enough (or intrigued enough)by a photograph to create a character based on it.

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    1. I loved the premise behind her character, a fictional story created from a photograph that depicts the reality of so many asylum seekers and their harrowing stories. It was equal parts distressing and beautiful, the writing was absolutely lovely.

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  2. This sounds really awesome! I'm glad you enjoyed it, Kelly.
    I'll be adding it to my wish list. =)

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    1. It's absolutely beautiful, can't wait to see what you think of it!

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  3. I'm crying over here! My heart is aching, and that's just from your short recap up there. Sounds heartbreaking, but very touching.

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    1. I can't stop thinking about Hằng and her journey, it's one of those reads that stays with you long after the final page. It's amazing and so incredibly beautiful.

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  4. To go through all of that just to have Linh not really remember her. This sounds so heartbreaking but beautiful.

    Karen @ For What It's Worth

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    1. One of my favourite aspects is when Hằng remembers how her father taught her English and how she is learning to communicate, sounded out words and creating word trees, it's beautiful.

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  5. This sounds like such a beautiful, but heartbreaking read - like others have already mentioned in the comments. Thank you sharing with us, Kelly!

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. Thanks Lauren. I was so incredibly moved by Butterfly Yellow, I hope I can encourage other readers to pick up a copy. It's incredible.

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