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"Then, near the pier, I see a stall with kites. Mom points to a kite and my heart jumps. It looks a lot like the kite on my wall at home."
From The Asian Reporter, V14, #12 (March 16, 2004), page 17.
Home must be inside me and all around me too
By Lawrence McKay, Jr.
Illustrated by Dom and Keunhee Lee
Lee and Low Books, 1998
Paperback, 30 pages, $6.95
By Josephine Bridges
"Mom and I are packing for our big trip to Vietnam," Mai, the narrator of Journey Home begins. "Iím excited, but Iím also afraid of what weíll find when we get there." Lawrence McKay, Jr.ís magnificent prose reads like the diary of the most gifted and honest ten-year-old you will ever have the privilege of knowing. Dom and Keunhee Leeís gorgeous illustrations unfold like the difficult and wondrous journey they depict. This is an extraordinarily powerful book.
Maiís mother was left at a Saigon orphanage during the war, and she and her daughter are going back to Vietnam to search for her birth family. She is called Lin, but she doesnít know her real name. Looking out the window of their hotel room in Saigon, Mai tries "to imagine what it was like during the war, but itís hard to believe there ever was a war here." She looks at herself in the mirror and thinks "itís strange being in a country where I look mostly like everyone else."
After a day spent going through pictures in the Peopleís Hall of Records, the mother and daughter have found nothing. "I know how Mom feels," Mai confides, "because Iíve never seen my father either. His name was Frank Mercer and he left before I was born." At a market, they find a stall with kites a lot like the kite that was Linís "only possession when she was adopted and brought to America." The kite merchant directs them to the city of Sa Dec and gives them the name Tran Quang Tai. The little family is finally on the right track.
Lin does not find her birth family, but she discovers their fate, and she learns her real name. For her this is enough. "Iíll never again feel the emptiness of not knowing," she tells her daughter. Wondering where home is, Mai decides, "I think home must be inside me and all around me too."
Lawrence McKay, Jr. is also the author of Caravan, and Dom Lee also illustrated Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story. Journey Home, their first book together, won a 1998 Parentsí Choice Approval and Recommendation Award. For the sake of our youth, may their collaboration be long and fruitful.