Iris Rhodes is a successful writer in Chicago. She has been trying to heal old wounds between her father and herself, as he lies dying in a hospital. Her father is a Vietnam vet and has been trying to fight his demons by working on a very important project. He is opening up a center for street children in Vietnam. It is one way he feels he can contribute to Vietnam’s healing. Right before her father dies, Iris has made the decision to go to Vietnam to see her dad’s project through to completion.
Iris decides to enlist the help of her childhood friend, Noah. He is a wounded veteran of the Iraq war and his leg has been amputated. Noah is finding it difficult to come to terms with what has happened to him and others in Iraq. His stump causes him a lot of pain, especially when his artificial leg is attached. He has turned to alcohol and pain medication to numb the pain and memories. Iris is hoping that the trip will help him come to terms with himself.
Qui is grandmother and caregiver to Tam, a beautiful little girl who is dying of Leukemia because Qui couldn’t get the money to see a doctor. She finally does get the money but, the cancer has spread into the bones and there is no way to cure it. Qui carries Tam back and forth from their little shanty to the market everyday, where they sell books to scrounge up enough money to eat. Qui often goes without eating and gives Tam all the food, since there is so little.
The story also follows two street children. A little girl, Mai and her friend, a little boy, Minh. An opium addict, Loc cut off one of Minh hands to keep him “loyal”. Minh plays Connect Four with tourists for a dollar a game. Mai and him must pay Loc $5.00 per day or pay the consequences. Often that means that they don’t get to eat. They sleep together in a basket under a bridge. They want to escape the life that they are living.
Once Iris and Noah arrive at the Center, they meet a young woman, Thien. Thien has been helping Iris’s father with the Center. The three of them quickly make friends and get to work. Noah works on making a playground for the kids to play. He hauls around heavy dirt and boards, which cause his stump great pain. He drinks while he works. Both Iris and Noah find inspiration from the poor Vietnamese people, which has profound effect.
Eventually the center is near completion and the first people to live there are Qui and Tam. I’m not going to say anymore due to spoilers. My keyboard is locked on that.
I was so excited when I received an email from John Shors asking if I would review his new book! He has also written two other books, Beneath a Marble Sky and Beside a Burning Sea. Both are historical fiction. I haven’t read Beside a Burning Sea yet but I cannot recommend Beneath a Marble Sky highly enough! It is a must for historical fiction fans. I couldn’t wait to read his new book.
This book is a departure from his other two books, as it is not historical fiction. It is however, a present day story that packs a punch! John Shors does a excellent job tying all of the stories of the different characters together. He weaves the story together like a beautiful tapestry. He makes a point about what life is like for the millions of street children living in Vietnam. He pulls at your heart strings and is not very subtle. I even felt a bit manipulated but the story works. There is a little something for everyone in this book, a budding romance, drama, and suspense. I recommend this book.
Mr. Shors is donating part of the proceeds of this novel to Blue Dragon Children’s Fund. They work with street children in Vietnam and hope to open a center, like the one in the book.