Butterfly Yellow

Written by Thanhha Lai
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

In Saigon, near the end of the Vietnam War, twelve-year-old Hằng went with her five-year-old brother, Linh, to missionaries who were taking orphans to America. She planned to pretend they were orphans so they could go to the land of the cowboy. However, the missionaries only took very young children, and when she and her brother were separated, Hằng lied to her family about what happened. Six years later, Hằng is alone in Texas, after enduring unspeakable horrors, trying to reunite with the little brother she lost.

The son of academics, LeeRoy wants to be a rodeo cowboy, like his deceased grandfather. Despite that all he knows about horses comes from books, eighteen-year-old LeeRoy leaves for the summer in a red truck and fancy cowboy-clothes to follow his hero, Bruce Ford, on the rodeo circuit. In Amarillo, unable to abandon a damsel in distress, he gets tangled up in Hằng’s quest. The two find Linh, who isn’t the boy Hằng expected.

Hằng’s pain is so evident and yet also so well hidden—from the reader and from the characters. Her uncovering is slow and smooth, poignant and painful. LeeRoy is annoying and lovable. The narration switches between main characters and sometimes to lesser characters, giving readers alternate perspectives and lovely pieces of people. Lại’s prose is beautiful. Highly recommended. Ages 13 and up.