Author: Ocean Vuong
Reviewed by: Amelia Valasek, Library Manager
Who should read it: Anyone who appreciates poetry, stories about immigration, LGBT issues, coming of age, and what it means to be an American. Anyone who won’t get bored by a book that is light on “plot” but deep in feeling. Note: this book does contain a few scenes that are sexually explicit in nature.
Personal Impression: There were times I cried and re-read a sentence or paragraph several times just to enjoy the sheer beauty of language. There were other times I got a bit bored and started skimming.
Review: The plot of the book is fairly limited. A family from Vietnam immigrates to the United States after the Vietnam War, where a grandmother, mother, and son navigate through their new life, and where the son falls in love with a local farm boy. What this book lacks in conflict or plot, it more than makes up for with a profound reflection on the human experience.
It’s clear that Ocean Vuong is first and foremost a poet. The book wanders between coherent narrative, in which the protagonist “Little Dog” comes of age and experiences first love, and a less coherent prose-poetry in which the narrator (and one might be forgiven for thinking, perhaps the author himself) explores an often fraught relationship with his family, most especially his mother. Woven between these two main threads are a host of other themes such as the trauma of war, the opioid crisis, and the immigrant experience.
This is a book that works best when it is absorbed. To enjoy this book, I recommend not trying to focus on the story at a rational level, but instead to let it work through you and cling to your subconscious like the cobwebs of a dream.