Butterfly Yellow


Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Erika L. Sanchez, this gorgeously written and deeply moving own voices novel is the YA debut from the award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again.

In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.

Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.

Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.--from the publisher

304 pages                 978-0062229212                Ages 13 and up

Keywords:  refugees, Vietnam, Asia, journey, immigration, brother, family, feelings, emotions, Vietnam War, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old, historical fiction, relationships, relatives


“Up to 70 dead after boat capsizes trying to reach Europe from Libya”

-- headline from earlier this month


“I will remember you

Will you remember me?”

--Sarah McLachlan (1995)


“In the final days of the war in April 1975, Hằng thought she was so clever, devising a way to flee while her family strategized and worried. Every day newspapers printed stories about Americans panicking to save hundreds of orphans. There was even an official name, Operation Babylift. She assumed she and her brother would go first, then somehow her family would join them in America. But in line at the airport she was rejected, a twelve-year-old passing as eight. Linh was five, three to foreign eyes, just young enough to be accepted as an orphan. Hằng saw little Linh thrashing as he was carried into a Pan Am.

By the time her brother was ripped from her, nobody cared to hear why she lied. With so many scrambling to flee before the victorious Communists marched in, one more screaming child was just that. An American volunteer with puffy, sweaty hands must have felt sorry for her. He pressed a card into her palm as he pushed her away from the ladder. Sun rays radiated through each strand of his mango-colored hair. She had to stop an impulse to extinguish the fiery puff of gold threads on his head. He was the last to board. Hằng screamed until the Pan Am blended into the sky and left a long loose-curl cloud. For hours, until dusk enveloped her and mosquitoes chased her home, she focused skyward and pleaded for forgiveness. When she opened her palm, the card had disintegrated except for one clue: 405 Mesquite Street, Amarillo, Texas.

Returning home that day, she faced her grandmother with a confession sinking down her tongue. Upon hearing the three words, ‘Em mất rồi,’ he is gone, Bà immediately puckered her lips as if biting a lemon and was helpless against the red rimming around her eyes. After a long lumpy exhale, she concluded her grandson had been kidnapped.

Only Hằng, her mother, and Bà remained in the house after the war. They were told her father had been killed shortly before the winning north rolled their tanks into the southern capital. Her mother sank into bed and stayed. But Bà, vowing they would not become a house of weeping women, wrote down the beginning of hundreds of steps needed to reclaim her grandson. First, they must save money. Next, they must write to her uncle in Dallas, telling him to go to the address.

Hằng never corrected Bà’s assumption. During the day, as Bà clicked her nails and plotted, Hằng could pretend innocence. After all, Bà didn’t ask, how did they get to the airport? Were there other children? Who thought he was an orphan? Why didn’t Hằng scratch, bite, and scream to keep her brother beside her? It was so easy to stay quiet as Bà provided herself with answers.

But while crickets sang and Bà snored beside her, the lie streaked through Hằng’s blood and deposited ashy guilt inside every crevice. The gray guilt had grown heavy, refusing to pause its relentless infusion into her joints and marrow. After all, it was her fault her brother was taken.”


Six years later, in the summer of 1981, Hằng makes it halfway around the world to Texas. By now, her mother and grandmother Bà are dead. There is just the uncle in Texas, who was unable to locate Linh at the address on that business card. He expects eighteen-year-old Hằng to behave like an obedient child. But with all those years of guilt weighing on her, nothing is going to stop this young woman from completing the reunion of siblings for which she is so desperate.

Ignoring her uncle, Hằng boards a Greyhound for Amarillo. But she gets carsick and then fails to get back on board in time before the bus departs after a rest stop break.

Out there in the middle of nowhere, fate brings Hằng together with LeeRoy, a high school graduate and city boy from Austin whose desire is to become a cowboy rather than follow the college path his educated parents have advocated. He’s just left home in search of his dream.

This odd pair of eighteen-year-olds ends up traveling together in search of Hằng’s brother. BUTTERFLY YELLOW is the sweet and incredibly comedic story of what happens after they catch up with Linh.

After a while, you can imagine something happening between these eighteen-year-olds who come to rely upon one another on many levels. But, in terms of boyfriend-and-girlfriend matters, both Hằng and LeeRoy are totally clueless. Their innocence coupled with their bantering and LeeRoy’s adolescent thought processes make this such a fun read. I would be comfortable sharing this one with the younger end of the YA crowd.

The story takes place long ago, but the plight of wartime refugees is still in today’s news. Through Hằng’s story, readers get some intense views at what it’s like to try to escape war at any cost, and how precious it is--back then and, still, today--to find a home in America.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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