Book Review: House Without Walls
House Without Walls
Written by Ching Yeung Russell
Published by Yellow Jacket (Little Bee Books)
Publication date: 4th June 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
For most people, home is a place with four walls. It’s a place to eat, sleep, rest, and live. For a refugee, the concept of home is ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-wavering. And often, it doesn’t have any walls at all.
Eleven-year-old Lam escapes from Vietnam with Dee Dee during the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus in 1979, when people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled their homelands for safety. For a refugee, the trip is a long and perilous one, filled with dangerous encounters with pirates and greedy sailors, a lack of food and water, and even the stench of a dead body onboard. When they finally arrive at a refugee camp, Lam befriends Dao, a girl her age who becomes like a sister-a welcome glimmer of happiness after a terrifying journey.
Readers will feel as close to Lam as the jade pendant she wears around her neck, sticking by her side throughout her journey as she experiences fear, crushing loss, boredom, and some small moments of joy along the way.
Written in verse, this is a heartfelt story that is sure to build empathy and compassion for refugees around the world escaping oppression.
I wasn’t prepared for the emotional depth and heft of this story.
Written in verse, it follows Lam and her brothers as they attempt to leave Vietnam and emigrate to another country, in the aftermath of the victory of the north Vietnamese forces and the subsequent discrimination against her family and other Chinese families.
This story has moments of darkness, but is also shot through with hope as the children face obstacle upon obstacle to reach safety and their father, who successfully emigrated to America years earlier.
At every step Lam is torn between the hope of a new future, the family she has left behind in Vietnam and the new ‘found’ family she has made along the way.
This is a beautiful and important book, recommended for all!
(If giving to younger children, please note that there is repeated mention of the threat of sexual violence and rape against women and girls although our narrator does not experience or witness this. As might be expected from the dangerous journey undertaken, there are also descriptions of death)
What I liked: The story being told in verse, which somehow pares down the language until it is even more emotionally affecting than a paragraph of dense prose. Lam’s determination to survive and protect her baby brother. The kindness of their ‘found family’ and those who help them along their way.
Even better if: This couldn’t be improved! Except perhaps by the addition of some simple illustrations.
How you could use it in your classroom: This book is the perfect addition to collections aiming to encourage empathy, as well as those focusing o the experience of refugees around the world. The verse format may encourage even some of your weaker readers as it looks less intimidating than big blocks of text.
What did other people think?
Arin @Tomes of Our Lives said: “Books like this written for a middle grade audience are so important given the current view point on refugees and immigrants in the United States. I can clearly see a situation in which a child picks this book up and reads it and gains an understanding (and hopefully some sympathy) for people in situations they will never be able to understand and never have to experience.”
Gretchen @Brazen Bibliosoph said “Russell does an amazing job of relaying the truth of what happened during this forgotten time in our world’s history. It was a pleasure and an honor to learn about Lam’s story from Russell’s perspective.”
(Thank you to Yellowjacket and Netgalley for my e-ARC)
Check out some more books about refugees to read or share with the children in your life – remember that it is Refugee Week in the U.K. this week so it is the perfect time to share a story that might make others think twice about judging another human being on the back of sensational news headlines.
Thanks for reading!