Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family Reviews


Cover: Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family Authors: Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch Publisher: Pajama Press

“Skrypuch continues her collaboration with the Ho family in telling the stories of their escape from Vietnam after the war. Here the youngest daughter, Van Ho, pieces together memories of being the one who was left behind at the age of four….

As a work of fragmented and painful memories from the time Van was between the ages of four and eight, the narrative is impressively credible, capturing her feelings of confused abandonment, visceral descriptions of her life in Ho Chi Minh City, and gradual adjustment to being separated from her immediate family….”
—Amina Chaudhri

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Kirkus Reviews

“With simple but engaging language, Skrypuch recounts Van Ho’s true story of her lonely and hard life in Vietnam during the years she was separated from her family. Skrypuch offers readers myriad opportunities to identify with Van, who navigates school, friendship, bullying, and poverty, while also giving them insight into less-common American experiences such as political oppression and asylum. The story covers four years of Van’s life, including her reunion with parents and siblings in Canada and the immediate culture shock of arriving….This illuminating chapter book respects an often overlooked demographic, providing transitioning readers a truthful yet age-appropriate introduction to big issues that still affect people to this day.”

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The Horn Book Guide

“In a short and poignant narrative, Ho tells how, at age four, she was left behind in Vietnam while her family fled to Canada in 1981….The tale is filled with details about school, hard work, hunger, and the sorrow Ho felt until being reunited with her family when she was eight.”
—Cyrisse Jaffee

Quill & Quire ★ Starred Review

“Skrypuch and the now-adult Van Ho collaborate on this account of Van’s life from the morning she woke to find her mother and siblings gone to when, four years later, she was reunited with her family in Toronto….

[T]hroughout the book, the authors eschew sentimentality and sensationalism, creating a straightforward autobiography that is truthful about resilience and the often unpredictable ways children act and react.”

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CM Magazine

Rating: 5…Van’s story is necessarily informed by Skrypuch’s research and imagination in addition to Van’s memories of her distant childhood as corroborated by other members of her family. The product, is an extremely engaging account of a childhood in challenging circumstances….

Van’s story is a page-turner. Children will relate to her sense of injustice….

Too Young to Escape is a welcome reminder of the post-Vietnam War refugee crisis that saw Canada, France, the United States and Australia welcome strangers in need. Readers will appreciate hearing this personal story from a child’s perspective. The book will include an eight page colour insert of photographs of Van and her family as children plus a recent photo of Vanessa (formerly Van) with her spouse and children and a final image of Vanessa and her beloved Bà Ngoąi taken in 1997. Skrypuch includes very brief interviews with Van’s parents, Nam Ho and Phuoc Ho, that help to explain the context of the time including the reasons for their difficult decisions.

Readers may have wondered why the telephone or e-mail was not used by Van’s parents. The paucity of telephones in Vietnam in the early 1980s and censorship of physical mail by government officials are two more challenges that Van’s parents note in their interviews. Modern technology may make it easier to communicate over long distances today, but civil wars, state-sanctioned or state-sponsored discrimination and persecution are enduring reasons for normal people to be transformed into refugees in the twenty-first century. Van’s story and those of her family members remain timeless as well as time-specific.

Highly Recommended
—Val Ken Lem is a librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario

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Resource Links

Too Young to Escape is a compelling story about the aftermath of war for children….The fact that this book is memoir, not fiction, leaves tantalizing gaps in the story, only partly filled by interviews with Van Ho’s mother and father in the back matter. (The pictures of Van and her family will add immediacy to the reading experience.) Sensitive readers will be moved, and possibly shocked, by the challenges Van faces – but also reassured by her resilience and compassion.

Too Young to Escape offers a piercing firsthand account of the conflict in Vietnam, which continues to resonate in popular culture decades later. The book’s plucky young protagonist adds a diverse voice to a literature that continues…to be necessary for today’s readers.”
—Leslie Vermeer

Read the full review on page 23 of the December 2018 issue of Resource Links

Youth Services Book Review

“Rating: … 5

The first-person narrative should hold readers riveted….The importance of family shines through this compelling memoir, and a series of color photographs adds to the emotional impact.

….Readers who enjoy this book might also enjoy Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. In addition, they will want to seek out Adrift at Sea, a picture book by co-author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch which tells the story of Van’s older brother, Tuan.”
Renée Wheeler, Leominster Public Library, Leominster, MA

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Kids’ Book Buzz

“We rated this book: 4/5…

It was very intriguing and it was amazing to me that a little girl like Van actually went through all the things she did. The characters were amazing and well described….Anyone with an interest in Vietnamese history should read this book. I’d recommend this book because it’s an interesting topic. This book was an emotional roller coaster, I loved it.
—Sophia – Age 12

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Libris Notes

Too Young To Escape is based on the true story of a Vietnamese family who came to Canada during the 1980’s. This children’s novel grew out of an earlier book authored by Skrypuch, Adrift At Sea which told about Van’s brother Tuan and his escape from Vietnam. As Skrypuch mentions in her Author’s Note at the back, she would often get questions at school presentation of Adrift At Sea about what happened to Van. Did she ever make it to Canada? So Skrypuch approached Van Ho and asked her to consider telling her story. Together they worked on telling Van’s story, as she attempted to recall as much as possible of this period of her life….

Readers will be impressed by Van Ho’s respectful kindness towards her Ba Ngoai and her obedience to her aunt and uncle who, at great risk, have taken in many family members. Van’s fortitude in dealing with being left behind, and making the best of her situation are evident in her story. But the authors also show that it was difficult for Van to come to terms with being left behind. This was especially evident when photographs began arrived from Canada of her family, happy and well settled….

Too Young To Escape is another excellent, well-written book by Canadian Ukrainian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch that brings to light recent history in a meaningful way for young Canadians. Readers will enjoy the short interviews with Van’s mother and father and the colour family photo album at the back. A must-have book for schools, homeschoolers and anyone interested in portraying Canadian history in an engaging personal manner.”

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ASLC Litpicks

“This joint project between two Canadian authors gives readers a glimpse into the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of a child being left behind when her family becomes refugees. Interviews with her father and mother at the end of the book, as well as historical photographs, allows readers to better understand why a young child might be left behind and explains the sacrifice of every family member involved in immigration as refugees.

A companion story of her brother’s experience as a refugee, Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival, (2017) is told in picture book format and has been shortlisted for a number of awards. Both of these stories are important for both Canadian-born and foreign-born Canadians, to help young children develop a sense of identity and belonging as Canadians.”
—Fern Reirson

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CanLit for LittleCanadians

“When Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch co-wrote Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival with Tuan Ho, she began a family’s story of escape from Vietnam in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and taking of power by the communists. In that picture book, illustrated by Brian Deines, a mother and her two daughters, Loan and Lan, and six-year-old son Tuan escape Vietnam by boat, hopeful of joining father and the eldest daughter Linh in Canada. But there was another story. Because four-year-old Van is left behind. Too Young to Escape is her story….

Van Ho, who lived this story, tells it through Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s pen of extraordinary writing which reflects both Van’s youthful point of view and her trauma. Her story is disquieting but it’s also uplifting, focusing on Van’s resilience. Told from her perspective, from Van explaining away her family’s absence before she learns the reason to her obligation to completing chores many of our culture might deem inappropriate for one so young to finding a friend in a girl less fortunate than herself, Van’s story of being left behind is heartbreaking.

Enhancing Van Ho’s story with photographs and interviews with her father, Nam Ho, and mother, Phuoc Ho, Too Young to Escape gives a snapshot of a different time and place, one of upheaval and loss, perseverance and endurance, that ends with a reunion and a good life in Canada. It is a story of survival, even if Van Ho was Too Young to Escape.”

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A Year of Books

“This was a terrific story, written with a middle-grade reader in mind. It is a story of bravery as a family escapes Vietnam for a better life, ending up in Canada. This families’ plight should be taught in school and enable those born in Canada to understand the life and death choices that families have made to get to freedom….

I loved meeting this amazing family who were all reunited after many years apart and appreciate living in Canada…As in all her books, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch has done a fantastic job capturing the raw feelings of hope and resilience. She helps students consider the plight of others, living through war and devastation. I look forward to her next book and am thankful that the Branford Public Library held an event to launch this terrific book!”

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Laura Lillibridge

“As a writer, I was particularly impressed with the strong voice. Skrypuch beautifully captured the perspective of a young child. The voice is simple and believable….

At the end of the book are interviews with both Van Ho and her mother. This was a well-deployed device to allow the adult perspective, which would be unavailable to the young narrator at the time. By structuring the book this way, we’re able to get a fuller picture of the family’s experience while remaining true to the main character’s voice and age in the story. I highly recommend this story of immigration for all middle grade readers.”

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Canadian Bookworm

“This story brings to life the situations and circumstances that the Vietnam refugees fled, and creates some understanding for young readers of the difficulties faced by them.

The day to day reality of life in Vietnam for Van and her grandmother are shown in detail, and the photos included here allow the reader to connect with the young girl.

I remember welcoming Vietnamese refugees in my community years before this time, and still have a small gift that one young girl gave to me as I helped her adjust to her new life, so this story really hit home for me.”

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