YA Books on the Immigrant Experience

The Land of Forgotten Girls

by Erin Entrada Kelly

the-land-of-forgotten-girlsSol and her younger sister have suffered so much loss in their short lives.  Their sister drowned at age 4 and their mother died within a year following that.  Their father promptly remarries and moves the family from Philippines to Louisiana. The stepmother turns out to be an abusive, chain smoking shrew and soon the father abandons her and the children and returns to the Philippines.  The story is told over the course of one sweltering hot summer.  Before her death, the girl’s mother used stories to entertain and engage the girls in an enchanted world of possibility.  Sol now uses this same strategy to help her younger sister cope with the difficulties of their circumstances. In addition to a horrible stepmother, the girls face racial prejudice and the adverse effects of poverty. The book is relatively short and there isn’t time to develop the potentially interesting characters who populate Sol’s world. This was disappointing – – I would have liked to have gotten to know them better – –  the Mexican best friend and would-be boyfriend, the rich girl with albinism who Sol befriends, the ancient Chinese woman with no friends or family, and the seemingly crazed junkyard owner with a talent for making miniatures in bottles.

Inside Out and Back Again

by Thanhha Lai

Told in free verse, this is a wonderful story of ten-year-old Kim Ha andinside-out-and-back-again her family.  The book opens with the decision to leave war-torn Viet Nam, a difficult and painful decision to make. They were not only leaving their home and friends, but also leaving behind their father, who had been missing for a long period of time.  While aboard the boat, the family suffers countless hardships and indignities until an American ship rescues them. Kim Ha, her mother and brothers finally settle in Alabama.

In moving prose, Kim Ha tells of her struggles learning to live in a place that has strange food, language and customs.  In the 1970’s, the racial divide in Alabama was significant and made it very difficult to assimilate into the culture.  At that time, ESL (English as a second language) was not a part of the educational system an inability to speak English was equated with ignorance. Inside Out and Back Again left this reader with a profound respect for those who have immigrated to our country and overcome tremendous obstacles.


LisaBlogThis Youth book review was brought to you by Lisa Q. Harling. When not conducting Story Times or reading the best that kids’ authors have to offer, Lisa enjoys playing with her dogs and keeping up with her two adventurous sons. If you have suggestions for future book reviews, email her at lqharling@cityofportsmouth.com.

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