Review of Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam

Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam
by Thien Pham; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    First Second    240 pp.
6/23    9781250809711    $25.99
Paper ed.  9781250809728    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781250336101    $11.99

This graphic memoir begins with the author’s earliest memory: trying to quench his thirst with seawater as he and his family flee Vietnam by boat. Thien’s perspective as a five-year-old child is relayed through alternating spreads of violence he witnesses and then pitch-black spreads (when he closes his eyes to shut out the terror). After the threat is over, a rice ball with fish saved for him by his mother provides comfort. The food motif continues, with chapters named for foods that accompany his memories, as the family stays at the overcrowded Songkhla Refugee Camp in Thailand until they’re relocated to San Jose, California—where the book showcases the diversity of Asian American identities via a dish introduced to Thien by his Vietnamese American crush. Finally, after anti-immigrant rhetoric drives the adult Pham to seek U.S. citizenship, a celebratory meal of rice and fish shared with his family recalls that first memory. Community-building and resilience are central to the story as people from various backgrounds help the family navigate unfamiliar situations. The cartoon style and animated facial expressions in the muted, earth-hued panel illustrations are warm and inviting, matching the earnest and often humorous tone of the book. A nuanced and hopeful graphic memoir depicting moments of hardship and joy with sincerity. Back matter includes photographs and Pham’s “interview” with himself.

From the July/August 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Kristine Techavanich

Kristine Techavanich is a youth services librarian at the Timberland Regional Library System. She served on the 2023 Newbery committee.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.