Bank Street College of Education names ESCAPING THE TIGER one of “Best Books of 2010”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, April 2010 (excerpt) – Straight forward writing and ample dialogue make the book readable, and the engaging characters keep the reader immersed from start to finish…This is a moving story that breathes life into a chapter of twentieth-century history that may be little known to young readers.
Kirkus (circ. 5,000) – After fleeing across the Mekong River and nearly drowning in the process, Vonlai, his older sister, Dalah, and his parents are confined to an overcrowded refugee camp in Thailand in 1982 to wait for resettlement in a Western country. Food is scarce, and camp conditions are horrific, with little to sustain the family but a sense of community and dwindling hope, as months of confinement become years. Vonlai befriends an aging Lao colonel who teaches him woodcarving and determination, and he valiantly protects his sister from the ever-present danger of sexual assault. Even after eventual resettlement, it is clear that many challenges remain for the teen and his family. Basing the story on her husband’s childhood experiences, the author documents the refugees’ harrowing plight in riveting episodes that capture the hardships endured by these too-often forgotten people and also illustrate Vonlai’s difficult coming of age. A sad afterword that pairs perfectly with the fictionalized tale summarizes the real-life experiences of Anousone Manivong, adding further depth to an already moving tale. Essential.
School Library Journal – When Vonlai’s family escapes communist rule in Laos, he expects to find safety in a refuge camp in Thailand. He does not expect to practically drown in the Mekong River or to experience the horrible conditions that he and his family find themselves in. The refugee camp offers little food, water, adequate sanitation, or security, and the heat is relentless. Vonlai thrives at school, but after one year, he is too old for even this meager asylum. An elderly refugee, Colonel, befriends him and teaches him to whittle away, both the days that turn to years and the wooden figurines he is carving. Yet, it is the ever-present threat to his 16-year-old sister’s virtue that sabotages any sense of well-being. A guard watches her, stalking and circling in closer and closer, keeping readers feeling as uneasy as Vonlai. This compelling novel offers significant historical background. This is certainly a book to prompt purposeful discussion to increase historical and multicultural awareness.
Booklist (circ. 29,125) – Review – “Based on the author’s husband’s experience, this first novel about escape from Communist Laos in 1982 is told from the viewpoint of Vonlai Sirivong who flees with his family across the border to Thailand. The focus is on his four years spent in a cramped, miserable UN refugee camp, where he is unable to attend school after sixth grade, and he waits for admission to the U.S. Brutality is always present: in one scene, Vonlai protects his older sister from attempted rape. He also bonds with an older man who lost everything and dreams of life in America. Finally, his family is interviewed, they say good-bye to the camp, and they travel to Kansas, where Vonlai hates the food, loves the snow, and plays sports. The specific details about camp life may be too repetitive for some readers. But refugee families and their friends everywhere will recognize the cruel dislocation, the interminable wait, and the search for home.”
Uma Krishnaswami – This debut novel for upper elementary and middle school-aged readers tells the story of Vonlai Sirivong who is twelve at its opening and sixteen at its conclusion. In between we witness his first frantic escape with his family from their native Laos, then in the hands of the dreaded Pathet Lao. We follow them to refugee camps in Thailand before they finally gain admittance to the United States. Escaping the Tiger is a deeply felt story, simply told. Vonlai’s relationship with his older sister Dalah, and his shifting role relative to his parents, constitute the heart of this story. As he forges a place for himself despite the gritty conditions of the camp, playing soccer and waiting for an endless series of papers that bring in turn food, education, and finally freedom, he comes to understand what really matters in life. Manivong has created a believable protagonist, and she does not shy away from depicting the difficult living conditions in the Na Pho refugee camp. There are many threats to Vonlai’s family, including the near-rape of his sister. Nor does the story default to an undilutedly happy ending—instead we come to care about characters who make unexpected decisions, or who are left behind. Based on the author’s husband’s own experiences, this is a vivid and lovingly drawn tale of people caught in the crossroads of history and struggling to retain both dignity and hope. Uma Krishnaswami
Links to Blogger Reviews:
Imaginal Realm (this one’s cooler than a review)
YA Book Nuts
Sarah’s Random Musings
Newbery Winner Linda Sue Park
Author Shaun Hutchinson
Reading by the Shore
Page Turners Blog