Mèo and Bé

By Booklist

In rural Vietnam (circa 1962), 11-year-old Bé and her mother live in Bé’s father’s home, where his first wife (“Big Mother”) abuses the two. Then Ma leaves (to earn money to rescue her daughter), Ba suffers a stroke, and her stepmother arranges for Bé to be kidnapped by soldiers seeking sex slaves. As a result of her trauma, Bé becomes mute and finds small comfort in her devoted kitten, Mèo. This moving debut novel, based in part on the experiences of members of Nguyen’s family, features well-developed characters, vivid depictions of wartime Vietnam, and a sense of everyday life for ordinary Vietnamese people during this period. The author does not shy away from detailing the abuse Bé suffers (particularly wrenching is the depiction of a raging Big Mother tattooing Bé’s forehead with a cross), but the women imprisoned with Bé by the soldiers prevent her from being selected for assault. An unsparingly brutal but ultimately uplifting story; readers will cheer as Bé finally finds her voice. Chapter headings and section divisions are illustrated with black line art.