From School Library Journal
Grade 6–9—Grace, 14, has grown up knowing very little about her family and the traditions of her Cambodian ancestors. Then her grandmother dies, and she and her mother go to Florida for the funeral. Grace has never been to a Buddhist temple, she has never met the people her grandmother was close to, and she has never been told why her mother and grandmother left Florida for Pennsylvania. Grace doesn't even know who her father is. Embraced by her grandmother's old friends, she begins to learn about her heritage and about her grandmother's difficult life. She also discovers secrets about her mother's past and the identity of her father. The author peppers the text with Cambodian terms but doesn't explain them. Readers may feel as lost and confused as Grace is when thrust blindly into Cambodian society. The book is beautifully written, but readers will have to sift through the unfamiliar language to get through to the story. Still, the author allows family secrets to unfold carefully and explores them with sincerity.—Julianna M. Helt, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
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When Grandma dies in Pennsylvania, 14-year-old Grace and her mom take the ashes back to the Cambodian immigrant community in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the traditional funeral. Why did her mother and grandmother leave St. Petersburg before Grace was born? Why didn’t they return before this? Grace grabs the chance to explore her roots and search for her father. The cultural detail nearly overwhelms the story (along with the funeral, there’s a traditional wedding going on with multiple rehearsals and rituals). But, as in Ly’s first novel, Home is East (2005), the immigrant experience is part of the family drama, which includes a look at what Grandma escaped from in Cambodia. More than politics, the novel is about family secrets, and Grace’s search for her father is, of course, the elemental search for herself. As she goes forward in the story, she discovers shame, spite, hurt, anger, and love across generations—and, finally, forgiveness and understanding. Grades 6-10. --Hazel Rochman