Written By: Trung Le Nguyen
Illustrated By: Trung Le Nguyen
Page Count: 256 pgs
Published By: Random House Graphic
Release Date: 13th October 2020
Tiến is a young boy living in America, the only child of immigrant parents from Vietnam. Having grown up in the States his entire life, his first language is English. Which unfortunately means that there is a difficult language barrier at times when he wishes to speak to his parents, as they are still trying to learn the language. In order to include them more, Tiến reads fairy tales with them every night ever since he was a little boy. The only problem is, that the one subject he wishes to talk about most isn’t found in your traditional fairy tales. So just how is Tiến going to come out to his parents?
First off, this really was an interesting story. I haven’t come across many that deal with the same scenario that Tiến is living in. Born to immigrant parents, and not being fluent in the language his parents have grown up with. I can see that his parents work incredibly hard for the life they currently have, and as we see by his mothers’ actions they have been saving money for several years in order to go back to visit their families back in Vietnam. Which would act as a first meeting for Tiến and his wider family, even though he is already about twelve years old I say. In order to set their son up and give him the best start in America, they solely focussed on him having English as his first language. A difficult decision to make, as it does suggest they made a big sacrifice in regards to their identity and where they came from by not being able to pass that on to their son. The biggest barrier they face though, is this language connection and trying to find a perfect balance between both their native languages. Although his parents do try their best, they are also incredibly busy with their jobs in order to stay afloat and being able to send money back home to Vietnam to care for their ailing parents. This is a sad tale and its not completely fiction, as there are people today that still struggle with the same living standards and cultural barriers within families who have also made the dangerous journey of fleeing to another country in order to live a better life. All you have to do is look at the news.
Tiến seems to have some bit of understanding about the struggles his parents have gone through in order to give him the life they now have. He can see how tired his father is when he returns home from work, the odd jobs his mother has. As well as the numerous times that even just his clothes need to be mended, instead of replacing them with something new. Tiến has his own struggles as well, which include his self confidence and the guilt he feels, as he does not know how to act on his feelings towards his best guy friend. This story is also based in the 1990’s, so ideals and community values were still high and expected to be inline with what the Church thought – much like Ireland was at the time. So for Tiến to even talk about or approach anyone about his sexuality, was met with having to be reeducated and being forced to talk to the local clergyman. He not only had no support that he could reach out to, because of either a language barrier or not knowing who to trust. Combined with the sudden family tragedy, he had a lot of emotional baggage to deal with at the time. This is certainly a book worth reading, as it puts it all down to a human level and one that makes it instantaneous to connect with the characters.
The majority of this book is also a retelling of a fairy tale called ‘Tattercoats’, as well as versions of the Little Mermaid and Cinderella. Versions that I have not read before, but were beautifully drawn and told. They fitted in well alongside the main story, but left me wanting to read more about these children’s classics by the end. Now this book isn’t entirely fiction, as it is somewhat based off of the childhood of the author. Trung Le Nguyen was born from Vietnamese Immigrants that arrived in the US. Having learnt both English and Vietnamese side by side when he was young, just like his main character they also shared the same pastime of borrowing fairy tales from the library. Which led to family discussions about the stories and eventually their language barrier developed its own balance, as they all used a hybrid of both English & Vietnamese at home. A balance which Tiến and his mother are searching for.
In order to experience this book in all its glory, you are just going to have to pick it up for yourself. As I fear I am failing to describe, just how influential this story may become for so many people. You can find the book now, in both digital and print. Even better yet, go and grab the hardback copy from your local bookstore!