My Father, The Panda Killer

Crown. Aug. 2023. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593642962.
Gr 9 Up–A dual-narrative, compelling read about family, intergenerational trauma, and immigration. The first voice is that of 17-year-old Jane, born in California to Vietnamese refugees who escaped the war. It’s 1999, and her mom abandoned the family years ago. Jane is helping raise her younger brother, Paul, as well as working in the family business, a liquor store. Jane is hiding a secret: she was accepted to UCLA but worries about leaving her young brother with their unstable, often violent dad. The second voice belongs to Phúc, who is 12 in 1975, and his small southern Vietnam village is experiencing the wrath of the Vietcong. When he manages to escape on a small vessel with other desperate people, the worst is yet to come. Phúc is Jane and Paul’s father, and each alternating chapter tells the story of the boy shaped by war who went on to become a parent while dealing with the trauma of war. Jane struggles with her Vietnamese identity, and often distances herself from whom she calls “fobs” or “fresh off the boat” new students in her school. As we learn more about Phúc’s upbringing, and Jane becomes aware of more pieces of her family history, the two start making sense of each other, and a shimmer of healing seems to be on the horizon. This novel tells the harrowing realities of war, and how the horrific things that people have had to endure present as poor mental health, displaced violence, and grief. There are also mentions of rape and physical abuse.
VERDICT An important book, highly recommended for high school and public libraries.

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