Ohhhhhhhhhhh, this book.
I read this book many times when I was a teen. I got it from the library over and over. I remember writing a poem about how much I loved it, and putting a copy of that poem inside the front cover of the book before returning it, and then being really pleased every time I would check the book out again and find the poem still there.
But I haven't read this book since leaving home to go to college. It's been almost twenty years. I've kept putting it on my list of favorite books, but I'd started to wonder... would I still love it? Was it as good as I'd thought as a teen?
Yeah, totally still love it. But it's not as good as I'd thought as a teen. It's a much simpler story than I'd remembered, and told fairly simply... but at the same time, that suits the story. It has no need to be fancy and elaborate.
During the Vietnam War, a Vietnamese boy named Chau Li feels intense compassion for an American soldier who has been captured by the Viet Cong and is being publically tortured by them in Chau Li's village. They imprison the soldier in a box suspended from a tree, a box so small his butt and feet are on the box's bottom, his head between his knees, his arms tied by his ankles. No room to move, no way to change position. Chau Li's father was the village leader, and he died in that same box, tortured and killed by the Viet Cong for not helping them. Although it means he will never see his mother or sisters again, Chau Li decides to try to rescue the American. The bulk of the book takes place after the rescue attempt. I remembered, when I got to the end, that once upon a time, I wrote another chapter for this book that took place after the book ends because I wanted it tied up more neatly. I would still like to know what happens next, but I'm okay with just vaguely imagining it now. I think.
Note: the edition with the cover above is the edition I read now, but not the one I read as a kid. This edition is a nice trade paperback, except it has a lot of typos, especially places where words with an 'r' and an 'n' next to each other have an 'm' instead -- like the word 'bum' instead of the word 'burn.' I'm assuming whoever put this out scanned the text from the original, and the computer mixed things up a bit. It wasn't irksome enough to keep me from enjoying this story all over again, but if it would bother you, try to find a used copy of the original.
Particularly Good Bits:
The boy lay listening to the steady fall of the rain, listening to the slow drip of water from the thatch to the floor. The rain outside was happy. It was with its companions, striking, running, tumbling, laughing as it fell. It was like a school yard full of children who have eaten large bowls of hot rice and pork for lunch. The rain that dripped inside was sad. it was separated from its friends, hungry, lonely. It was like the mother's tears (p. 12).
...in daylight, all demons wear kindly masks (p. 53).
Chau Li shrugged. "One survives. Tomorrow will come with the sun" (p. 63).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for violence, danger to a child, and suspense. I will let my 9-year-old read this if he wants to.
This is my third book read and reviewed for the Adventure of Reading Challenge 2017.