Mèo and Bé

Tu Bks. May 2023. 320p. Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781643796253.
Gr 6 Up–Set in rural Vietnam circa 1962, the dangers of the Vietnam War have forced Thu’o’ng and Má to move in with her father and his second family. Life with her new family is fraught with conflict, especially as her stepmother, Big Mother, does nothing to hide the contempt she has for Thu’o’ng (renamed Bé) and Má. When Bé’s father has a stroke, Big Mother seizes the opportunity to strengthen her hold on the family, leading to Má’s exit and leaving Bé completely alone. Choosing a life of muteness, Bé’s only comfort comes in the form of a family of cats and one particular three-legged kitten, Mèo. Even when Bé is kidnapped into slavery and finds herself in the middle of the Vietnam War, Mèo becomes a constant guardian and friend. With unflinching honesty, Bé’s story gives readers a rare window into Vietnamese life during the Vietnam War. Devoid of American soldiers and including only passing references to the Viet Cong, readers instead focus on the struggles of the Vietnamese people. Characters are well developed, the historical setting is drawn vividly, and tightly created tension pulls the reader through the story. Taken from the author’s own family history, details in these stories may be uncomfortable for some, but knowing that there is hope in the end will encourage readers to follow Bé’s story and cheer for her in its gratifying conclusion.
VERDICT An underrepresented topic on most shelves, this page-turner explores a girl’s search for love and connection while providing a unique and necessary historical perspective.

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