Forced to flee from the dreaded Khmer Rouge several years before, 17-year-old Sundara struggles daily to reconcile the cultural conflicts she encounters as a refugee in Oregon. When handsome, popular Jonathan asks for help with a report on her native land, she is unable to refuse, even though as a Khmer girl, she is to have no discourse with boys. Risking censure by her family, she agrees to sit with Jonathan during lunch in the school cafeteria. Jonathan, for whom everything has always been easy, is intrigued with Sundara's elusiveness and honestly moved to sympathy and love after learning her story. When Sundara's aunt expresses rage and shame about the chaste romance, the conflict-ridden girl is eventually launched into a severe emotional crisis.
Crew deftly applies ironic juxtaposition to convey the cultural leaps that a refugee must attempt. Americans pray publicly to win a football game; Sundara importunes silently for the survival of her parents and sister in a land which kills babies for sport. Crew's characterization is excellent. The Cambodians are each portrayed as individuals with flaws and follies, but never are they denied their inherent dignity. Their perserverance, hard work, and family unity see them through many stressful adjustments. The plot is well-structured, allowing profound concepts to be simply and beautifully presented. Dramatic tension melds past and present, pain and hope seamlessly together so that readers are swept effortlessly to a most believable and emotionally satisfying conclusion. Crew entertains without trivializing and instructs without sermonizing. She salutes the resilience and basic goodness of humankind which triumphs in some way even under the most inhumane circumstances.
—Cindy Darling Codell
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