Mèo and Bé
By Publishers Weekly
Nguyen’s affecting, Vietnam War–set debut centers nine-year-old Thu’o’ng, whose idyllic life with Ma in the lowlands of South Vietnam suddenly takes a turn. The war has waylaid visits from her Ba, who lives in the north, and increasing danger results in Ma and Thu’o’ng moving in with him and Ba’s first wife, Big Mother and Thu’o’ng’s five half-siblings, whom she did not know existed. Big Mother refuses to use Thu’o’ng’s birth name and nicknames her Bé, the first in a series of cruel deeds toward her. Hoping to raise enough money for her and Thu’o’ng to leave, Thu’o’ng’s mother departs to look for work, prompting now 11-year-old to stop talking and find companionship only with three-legged stray cat Mèo. When Big Mother sells the tween to human traffickers, Thu’o’ng fosters community with the other women despite the treacherous nature of her new circumstances. The harrowing realities of the protagonist’s situation are lightly hinted at, emphasizing the safety she feels with the older women, who protect her and the younger girls. This powerfully wrought portrayal of grief and perseverance sensitively depicts an underrepresented perspective of life in Vietnam during the war. Soulful digital illustrations by White (Mable Meets a Black Bear) introduce each chapter. Includes a pronunciation guide, glossary, and author’s note.