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June 5, 2021

House of Sticks by Ly Tran ~ a Review

by Ly Tran


Ly Tran was a toddler when her family emigrated from Vietnam to Ridgewood, Queens. Her father had been a member of the South Vietnamese army, then a POW for ten years. The family does piecework to make ends meet, and holds to their Buddhist faith. At the same time, Ly wants to fit in at school so badly. She is expected to have filial piety, and helps her family in all their endeavors, but has difficulty even seeing when her paranoid father feels that glasses are a conspiracy.

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House of Sticks
June 2021; Scribner; 978-1501118814
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); memoirs
Reading this memoir brings back a lot of memories of New York City in the '90s when the Vietnamese diaspora began in earnest. There's a lot of familiarity with the locale, even though she lived in Brooklyn and I grew up in Queens, as well as the bullying, eagerness to fit in, and the difficulty balancing cultures. Even readers unfamiliar with Vietnamese culture can still appreciate the delicate dance that first-generation and refugee children face when trying to keep their home life and still integrate into larger American culture. Ly's father has PTSD from the horrors he saw and experienced while in the "reeducation" camps, which was expressed in various ways large and small throughout her life. The fatalistic isolation her mother experienced also comes across so that Ly felt alone at times even when surrounded by her family.

I feel just as proud of Ly as the people in her life. She'd gone through a lot, as had her family, and came out on the other side of depression, hospitalization, and moments of suicidal ideation. There are a lot of little traumas that she grew up with, and it helped her connect with others that need a sense of belonging and a wider network to succeed academically. House of Sticks is a book that really spoke to me, and kept me thinking about the moments in it long after I put it down. As far as I'm concerned, that's the best part of a memoir.

Buy House of Sticks at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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