Book: Weeping Under This Same Moon
Author: Jana Laiz
Bite-sized summary: The story of a young Vietnamese refugee in the 1970’s fighting to find her way to safety in the U.S. with her younger siblings and an American teen, struggling with her own issues, who finds her way to health and peace through serving others.
How I discovered the book: My mom dragged me to a book club at my daughter’s school on a night when I was feeling too lazy to go out. I heard Jana speak about this book and her personal story, and I knew I had to read it! Jana spoke so compassionately about the family she worked with, and is still in touch with today, and about human rights issues. She’s truly an inspiration.
My personal connection: I loved the book and promised Jana I’d help spread the word!
What I loved: This award-winning novel, written for younger readers but appealing to adults as well, is a “fictionalized memoir” of Laiz’s experiences working with Vietnamese refugee families as a teen. It begins with the story of Mei, a Vietnamese refugee making her way from Vietnam to the United States with her younger siblings in the 1970’s. She buries her treasured paintbrushes and paints in her parents’ yard before setting off on a dangerous journey on a boat filled with refugees. Once Mei and her brother and sister make it to the United States, the narrative shifts to feature Hannah, a seventeen-year-old high school girl who is fighting her own battles with an eating disorder, feeling socially isolated and the normal teen/parent conflicts. Despite her troubles and apparent self-centeredness, Hannah has a heart of gold and feels compelled to reach out and help Vietnamese refugees after seeing a story about the Boat People on television. Hannah’s passion and compassion make her determined to do all that she can, despite her young age, and she connects with Mei’s family and neighbors to form a strong and lasting bond.
Mei’s reserved silence contrasts with Hannah’s outspokenness. Where Mei struggles to find the words in English to express herself, Hannah learns to channel her strong opinions and passion into positive action. Both girls find themselves strengthened and enriched by their relationship, and the ending, where Hannah has found her voice and her path, and Mei has rediscovered her art, is uplifting.
I would recommend this book for middle-school and teen readers who are interested in issues of social justice, who feel “different” and can’t help speaking out, who want to know how they can make a difference; ESL students of all ages; and adults who want to be inspired by a brave young Vietnamese refugee’s journey and an American teen who feels compelled to help.