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Nea, a Cambodian Chinese refugee living in Dallas with her family, is 11 when readers first meet her. One day her mother receives a letter from her long-lost sister, inviting them to reunite and help run a Chinese restaurant in small-town Nebraska. Auntie and her husband benefit greatly from the arrival of Nea, her siblings, and her hard-working mother. The restaurant initially flounders, but when Nea's older sister, Sourdi, enters into an arranged marriage with a wealthy man, their financial problems are solved. Yet family dynamics are far from rosy, especially because Auntie is mentally ill. Nea misses Sourdi with all her heart. From one crisis to another, feisty Nea proves wise beyond her years, stubbornly fighting her way through a thicket of family secrets and battles. Verdict Chai, a National Book Award nominee for her family memoir The Girl from Purple Mountain, has crafted a spunky, evocative coming-of-age novel.-Keddy Ann Outlaw, formerly with Harris Cty. P.L., Houston, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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In Chai's coming-of-age novel, 11-year-old Nea, who survived the Khmer Rouge with her scrappy mother, beautiful older sister, and younger siblings, leaves Texas for Nebraska to work in the Chinese restaurant owned by her auntie and uncle. But the miracle she'd hoped for is crushed upon arrival: auntie and uncle, once wealthy, are now struggling, and the locals are more bigoted than they were in Texas. It's the 1980s and the Japanese takeover of the U.S. auto industry looms large; though Nea is Chinese and Cambodian, she's still Asian, and treated as "other." Her relentlessly dour life is only occasionally broken by evocatively disquieting, often painful, dreams, memories, and myths that bring shifts in tone readers will welcome. Chai previously mined her own experience for the memoir, Hapa Girl, and the racism she has described enduring informs Nea and her family's experiences. But they are survivors, and as Nea matures she increasingly uses her wits for her own advancement, forging a path to college, though even this hopeful note can't erase the narrative's depressing aura. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.