Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family -- and the terrible secret -- he left behind. Read more...
Two years after being airlifted out of war-torn Vietnam, Matt Pin is haunted: by bombs that fell like dead crows, by the family -- and the terrible secret -- he left behind. Now, inside a caring adoptive home in the United States, a series of profound events force him to choose between silence and candor, blame and forgiveness, fear and freedom.
By turns harrowing, dreamlike, sad, and triumphant, this searing debut novel, written in lucid verse, reveals an unforgettable perspective on the lasting impact of war and the healing power of love.
- ISBN-13: 9780545080927
- ISBN-10: 0545080924
- Publisher: Scholastic Press
- Publish Date: April 2009
- Page Count: 224
- Reading Level: Ages 11-14
- Dimensions: 8.16 x 5.2 x 0.85 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.87 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 49.
- Review Date: 2009-04-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Using spare free verse, first-time novelist Burg (Pirate Pickle and the White Balloon) beautifully evokes the emotions of a Vietnamese adoptee as he struggles to come to terms with his past. Although he loves his American parents and new little brother, Matt misses the family he left behind two years ago, in 1975, when he was airlifted out of Vietnam. He feels guilty for leaving behind his toddler brother, who was mutilated by a bomb, and yearns for his birth mother, who pushed him “through screaming madness/ and choking dust” into the arms of soldiers. (“My parents say they love me./ He says/ I'll always be his MVP./ She says./ I'm safe, I'm home./ But what about my mother in Vietnam?”) Matt's baseball coach and Vietnam vet piano teacher help ease his pain, but it is the patience and unconditional love of his new parents, gently emerging throughout the story, that proves the strongest healing force. The war-torn Vietnamese village that appears in Matt's recurring nightmares sharply contrasts with the haven he has in America. Burg presents lasting images of both. Ages 11–up. (Apr.)
Piecing together a new life
Nikki Giovanni defines poetry as "pure energy horizontally contained," and that's exactly what the best novels in verse offer: energy and immediacy in the voice of the narrator and poetic lines direct to the mind, heart and spirit of the characters. In Ann Burg's fine novel in verse, Matt Pin is a refugee from the war in Vietnam. As he says of his new home in the United States, "There are no mines here, / no flames, no screams / no sounds of helicopters / or shouting guns. I am safe." He is safe, but he is displaced and haunted by his past. His American father left him, his Vietnamese mother gave him away to American soldiers to airlift him out of Saigon, and he feels guilty for the little brother who was horribly injured by a landmine blast while in Matt's care.
Now he feels like a stranger in a strange land, the "Vietnamese kid, / the one who reminds everyone / of the place they all want to forget." "My brother died / because of you," whispers a boy at school. But graduallywith the help of Jeff, a vet who teaches Matt piano, a baseball coach with struggles of his own, a loving American family and the Veteran Voices meetings he attendsMatt begins to find a place for himself, and his screaming nightmares give way to reflections and then to talking about his experiences, gaining acceptance even from the boy at school who calls him frog-face.
Burg's verse places readers into Matt's mind as he begins to piece together a remembrance of his life in Vietnam out of "a pocketful / of broken pieces." Burg has a facility for the surprising image: "tanks lumbered / in the roads / like drunken elephants, / and bombs fell / from the sky / like dead crows." When Matt plays catch with his American father in the evening, the ball goes "Back and forth / back and forth, / until dusk creeps in / and the ball / is just a swiftly / moving shadow / fading into darkness."
By the end of the novel, Matt has found an acceptance of who he is. He has forged wholeness out of all the broken pieces of his life; he likes his American family, his piano lessons, baseball and his American little brother, but he also is determined to someday find his Vietnamese brother. And readers feel reassured that Matt is going to be OK.
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English.