Paquette’s (The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies) middle-grade debut has a terrifying premise: after her mother’s death, 13-year-old narrator Luchi Ann, who knows nothing of her American heritage and has spent her entire life in a Thai women’s prison with her mother, must find her place in the outside world. “American but not American, Thai but not really Thai. Where do I belong, with my pale skin, my corn-silk hair, my stone-gray eyes? How can I call any country my own?” Armed with a few clues and a letter from her grandmother, Luchi sets off on an adventure that takes her to Bangkok and then on a boat as a stowaway to find her American family. The tautly paced narrative places Luchi in high-stakes situations as she makes discoveries about her family history, as well as herself. Paquette balances the story’s cruelties with kindnesses, such as that of a ship captain who safeguards her passage. The highly atmospheric setting and thoughtful, determined narrator create a memorable thriller about identity and belonging. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)
VOYA - Nancy Wallace
Born and raised in a women's prison in Thailand, thirteen-year-old Luchi knows little about her family. Her American mother has revealed almost nothing about her former life. When she dies, Luchi must leave the prison. She tries to piece together fragments of information from an old letter that hints that she may have a grandmother in Massachusetts. The warden's nephew, Kiet, drives her to Bangkok and leaves her with his friend Chaluay. After Luchi innocently reveals that she has enough money for a plane ticket to the United States, Chaluay robs her and leaves her alone on the streets of Bangkok. Penniless, Luchi stows away on a ship bound for Americaa decision that ultimately paves the way for her to meet her grandparents and find a home. Luchi's mother lives in constant fear of her father-in-law, a very powerful American businessman. When Luchi's father dies under mysterious circumstances, the evidence points to murder and her mother flees. Eventually, Luchi finds the strength to face her grandfather while her mother could not. Ironically, Luchi's favorite book is Cinderella, and while this book has a kind of fairy-tale ending, it is not reached without a great many hurdles. Luchi's innocence about the world makes her an especially appealing and vulnerable character. The author makes her first experiences outside the prisona car ride, glimpses of a forest, a rain storm, and the city of Bangkokfilled with naive wonder. This would be a unique choice for a teen girls' book discussion group. Reviewer: Nancy Wallace
VOYA - Hannah Forrester
Luchi Ann is a girl with a story like no other. Unlike most teenage girls, she has never gone to the mall; she does not have make up or even own a pair of jeans. Luchi Ann was born in a Thailand prison that her mother was sent to and her mother will not tell her why. This riveting book is full of intrigue and mystery. You step into Thailand and with Luchi Ann discover her past and where that knowledge will take her next. This book is for anyone who loves a good mystery. 4Q, 4P. Reviewer: Hannah Forrester, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal
Gr 7–9—Luchi Ann Finn, 13, was born and raised in a Thai women's prison where her American mother was serving time for drug possession/trafficking. The protective woman never shared the truth of her past with her daughter. When she dies, Luchi is "set free" by the kindly Chief Warden to find her way "home." She is given a ride to Bangkok carrying only the urn with her mother's ashes, a letter from her unknown grandmother (written years earlier to her mother), a storage key, a list of Bangkok addresses, and a pouch of American dollars. Naive and intimidated by the bustling city, Luchi finds no remnants of her mother's past and her money is stolen, so she decides to stow away to America on a cargo ship. Good fortune then begins to come her way. The captain's anger becomes affection as he helps Luchi through immigration; she meets her welcoming grandmother; and her mother's domineering father-in-law begs her forgiveness. The teen's taut narration captures the strangeness of her circumstances, her conflicting familiarity and insecurity with Thai culture, and her emerging sense of self and independence. The protagonist is an appealing heroine caught in a hazy web of family secrets, but determined to fulfill her mother's last words, "Go home." Luchi's courage and resilience enable her to pick up the pieces of her parents' shattered lives and reconcile with her estranged grandparents. This remarkable story contains elements of authenticity but lacks credibility and clear factual information on several issues. For middle grade readers, the absence of family contact, drug-trafficking laws and imprisonment in a foreign country, and Luchi's harrowing escape from child traffickers need more explanation.—Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
Opening with a flash-forward teaser, this unpersuasive debut quickly fizzles.
The only home Luchi Ann, 13, has known is the women's prison in northern Thailand where she was born to a jailed American mother who supervised her impressive education (history, philosophy, art, calculus and languages). After her mother dies, blonde Luchi Ann sets off alone, with the kindly warden's blessing, to "search for answers" to the mystery of her mother's incarceration. (Why she doesn't just ask the warden is another mystery.) Carrying her mother's ashes, money and a few phone numbers but little else, she accepts a ride to Bangkok with the warden's nephew. Like the plot, Luchi Ann never achieves credibility. Puzzlingly, she neither confides in nor seeks help from sympathetic adults in Thailand. They, for their part, neither question her nor intervene to protect her. Luchi Ann's sensibility and breathless present-tense narration, with pauses to rhapsodize about her future, belong more to an entitled girl of privilege than an orphan child adrift in an alien world. Reduced to generic, travel-brochure descriptions of countryside and city, vibrant Thailand feels drably insubstantial, the literary equivalent of an exotic background for a fashion-magazine spread. Equally generic are the Thai characters, enablers on Luchi Ann's self-absorbed journey.
A culturally tone deaf exercise in narcissism. (Fiction. 10-14)