This isn’t really a graphic novel, but kind of an illustrated memoir. It is not a fictional story with magic or monsters; instead, it discusses so many different aspects of life, growing up in different places during different times, and being a family.
The events are not recollected chronologically, jumping from the birth of the author’s child back to the childhood of each of her parents, and then all the way back through to the present. There are dates and locations noted throughout, but I did get a tiny bit lost on occasion. (If I’m honest, though, I didn’t actually read the date on half the pages so it’s kinda my own fault.)
There are several key themes and events in this novel. One huge factor is war; how it affected the family and their life together. There’s also a lot about what it means to be family, what motherhood is and what childhood is, and also the loss of a loved one. Another massively important theme is immigration; Bui describes being a refugee, illegally sailing away from Vietnam after they surrendered, and trying to build a life as a family in a whole new country. So many people are ignorant of these issues and hardships, not realising how much some families go through just to taste happiness.
The colour scheme is rather clear – oranges and blues, mostly. It has a very watercolour-y effect, giving a sense of remembrance and recollection of the past. The art is really lovely in this – I feel it portrays the story fantastically, and is just beautiful to look at on its own.
I found it really interesting how Thi Bui focused so much on the lives of her parents before they met, emphasising how even parents are people with their own lives and pasts and problems. As she becomes a parent herself, she realises how her mother must have felt for all these years.
As someone with a pretty “boring” life, I was also really intrigued by the journey everyone in this book made. The migration to America, trying to build a life and earn money and keep safe – it was a pretty emotional journey! But Bui never dwells on these negatives, never moans or wishes for change. She just says everything as it is, which I really admire.
This is a really interesting read for anyone who likes history, learning about different cultures, or just wants to appreciate their family more. It discusses some huge issues – miscarriage, infant fatalities, immigration, war – that a lot of people could benefit from reading about. And the art is wonderful! 4 stars for this novel.