Roots and Wings by Many Ly
Born and raised in a small Pennsylvania town, the only connection 14-year-old Grace has to her Cambodian heritage are her mother and her grandmother. While these three generations of women clearly need and love one another, they are uncertain as to how to truly know each other.
When Grace’s grandmother Naree dies unexpectedly, her mother Chandra decides she will be the dutiful daughter she wasn’t when her mother was alive, and take her mother’s ashes back to St. Petersburg, Florida. Fourteen year ago, Chandra and Naree fled their tight Cambodian American community without a single explanation to anyone, including longtime companions with whom Naree shared a childhood in Cambodia, and with whom she somehow survived the brutal Khmer Rouge. Mother and daughter settled where no one would know them, where Chandra became a teacher, and fatherless Grace was raised without a past.
Now suddenly in St. Petersburg, Grace and Chandra are welcomed by most with open arms, especially by Naree’s closest, oldest friend Oum Palla and her two sons. As Chandra prepares for Naree’s traditional Cambodian funeral (and assuage some of her burdensome guilt), Grace sees an opportunity to learn more about her own past, including who her unnamed father might be. By connecting with the family’s scattered roots, Grace (and Chandra) will finally be ready to understand, forgive, and ultimately release those waiting wings …
Ly’s bicultural coming-of-age story of self-discovery contrasts teenage innocence with the worst of generations-old scars of war. Alas, Ly’s debut title, Home is East, is definitely the more memorable read. Moments (pages!) devoted to self-pity ultimately mar what could have been a powerful experience of multi-generational transforming change.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult