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Roots and Wings

Roots and Wings

4.5 2
by Many Ly

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GRACE’S GRANDMOTHER HAS died, and she and her mother must travel back to the Cambodian community to give her a proper Cambodian funeral. But Grace wants to use the trip to solve a few mysteries, like who her father was, why her mother and grandmother moved from St. Petersburg to Pennsylvania, where they’re the only Cambodians Grace has ever seen, and what


GRACE’S GRANDMOTHER HAS died, and she and her mother must travel back to the Cambodian community to give her a proper Cambodian funeral. But Grace wants to use the trip to solve a few mysteries, like who her father was, why her mother and grandmother moved from St. Petersburg to Pennsylvania, where they’re the only Cambodians Grace has ever seen, and what Cambodian culture is really about.
Embraced by her mother’s old friends, Grace feels both at home and lost, fascinated by the traditions she’s never known, but strangely judged by some members of the community. Can she make sense of, and honor, the life of the grandmother she barely knew? And will revelations about the past bring Grace closer to her mother, or push them even further apart?

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Grace is 14 years old; her mother, a Cambodian refugee, is now a teacher in Pennsylvania. Grace doesn't know who her father is. She is close to her grandmother Naree, who raised her while her mother went to school and continued her career. When Naree dies and Grace's mother decides to return to bury her with other Cambodian relations in St. Petersburg, Florida, it becomes an important journey of discovery for Grace. For the first time, she hears stories of what Naree and her friends endured in Cambodia; and she discovers her mother's secret shame and why she stayed away from her friends and relatives for so long. This is essential reading for all those whose cultural ties go back to Southeast Asia, especially to Cambodia. It also speaks clearly to all whose families are immigrants, especially those who are refugees from terrible crises in their original countries. The problems in Grace's life are not neatly resolved, but instead the reader understands the complexities of family relationships. Many Ly, the author, seems to be comfortable with all these themes, loving and understanding these characters, writing poignantly and beautifully about their lives. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Lindsay Wing
Grace, a Cambodian girl, has always lived with her schoolteacher mom and grandmother Naree in Scottsville, Pennsylvania. There, they are the only Cambodian family. Then, Nareee passes away. Grace's mother decides to return to St. Petersburg, Florida to give Naree a proper funeral. Grace sees the trip as an opportunity to find out the answers to a few unsolved mysteries that have been nagging at her. For example, she would like to find out more about her Cambodian heritage, as well as about her absent father, whom she has never met. As soon as Grace reaches St. Petersburg and is comfortable with her mother's old friends and their families, she begins asking questions and learning answers that are more complex than she expected. Not long after her arrival in Florida, Grace begins to learn many Cambodian traditions. She also experiences some uncomfortable situations when she is judged by others. This book provides many insights about the Cambodian culture in the U.S. and the life lessons of a young girl. Reviewer: Lindsay Wing
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9- Grace, 14, has grown up knowing very little about her family and the traditions of her Cambodian ancestors. Then her grandmother dies, and she and her mother go to Florida for the funeral. Grace has never been to a Buddhist temple, she has never met the people her grandmother was close to, and she has never been told why her mother and grandmother left Florida for Pennsylvania. Grace doesn't even know who her father is. Embraced by her grandmother's old friends, she begins to learn about her heritage and about her grandmother's difficult life. She also discovers secrets about her mother's past and the identity of her father. The author peppers the text with Cambodian terms but doesn't explain them. Readers may feel as lost and confused as Grace is when thrust blindly into Cambodian society. The book is beautifully written, but readers will have to sift through the unfamiliar language to get through to the story. Still, the author allows family secrets to unfold carefully and explores them with sincerity.-Julianna M. Helt, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA

Kirkus Reviews
Fourteen-year-old Grace's beloved grandmother Naree has died, and Grace and her mother are going to St. Petersburg, Fla., to give her a traditional funeral in the midst of the Cambodian community that she loved. Grace also hopes to find some answers to the questions that plague her: Why did her mother and grandfather leave Florida for Scottsville, Pa., the only home Grace has ever known, where there is no Cambodian community at all? What scarred her grandmother's face, and what happened to her before she left Cambodia? How can Grace best honor the memory of her grandmother? What is Cambodian culture really like? And, perhaps most importantly, who and where is Grace's father? Suddenly caught up in this close-knit community and confused by the clash between Cambodian and American culture, Grace begins to find some answers-and some more questions. Replete with details depicting religious and social beliefs, Grace's quest for answers makes for an intriguing contemplation on life within Cambodian-American immigrant community, as well as a satisfying coming-of-age story. (Fiction. 12-14)
From the Publisher
“Readers looking for a nuanced and sympathetic exploration of secondculture life or a family struggling for rebalance will find a home here.” —The Bulletin

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
316 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

I held Grandma’s ashes in a dark wooden urn on my lap. Mom and I were flying her to St. Petersburg, Florida so she could have a Cambodian funeral and not wander around hungry. I didn’t know why an American funeral couldn’t do the same thing, but I trusted that my mother knew what she was doing. Next to me and Grandma, Mom sat with her back to me and her face pressed against the window, lost in the endless light blue sky.
The airplane rocked, and I held Grandma tightly to my stomach. Earlier I had tried to place her down near my feet.
“Grace, don’t be disrespectful,” Mom had scolded. So I put Grandma back on my lap and held her like I might have held a baby.
My grandmother had been only fifty-one years old when she died, so she wasn’t an old lady. I had read in a magazine that being in your fifties or even sixties was like being in your forties a long time ago. Whoever wrote that article did not know my grandmother. She had been small and frail, and she was shorter than I was at fourteen years old. I could have easily put my arms around her waist and picked her up, giving her a shake or two until she started laughing. “Down, Grandchild, down,” she would say as she kicked. But oddly enough, in the urn, she was heavy.
On the plane many passengers looked down at Grandma and me as they walked past our row, but only eight people didn’t turn away when I looked back. A couple of them turned their eyes toward my grandmother, like they wanted me to tell them about her death. “You didn’t know her,” I would have said if they asked. One lady, in particular, frowned, and her eyes watered. She wanted to say she was “sorry” for my loss, I could tell. But I didn’t want to accept it. She didn’t know me, and I didn’t know her, so I didn’t think her apology would be sincere.
Mom finally turned away from the window. She had been crying again, her eyes red and swollen, her lips puffy. Considering what her relationship with Grandma had been like when she was alive, I was shocked by how many tears she had shed in the past two weeks. This was the same woman who was always blaming her mother for everything that happened in her life: What, now? Are you going to tell me how to spend my money, too? When will you ever understand me? Isn’t it enough for you that my life is this way!
My mother was one of those women who spoke perfectly, walked perfectly, and dressed perfectly. Her blouses were always ironed, and the colors she wore fit ideally–never clashing or too matchy matchy. She was what the cosmetic companies called a “natural beauty.” She also had a behind the older boys at school revered. So I’d never understood how “this way” could be all that bad.
Mom wiped her eyes dry and put on her large sunglasses. She sighed. “Up here, it’s like we’re in a different world. If not for this . . . this plane that holds us back . . . we could, you know, be free and fly.”
Like birds? I chose not to say anything, though, and soon the gap between her brows wrinkled up in disappointment. It was this kind of moment that reminded me I was not as smart as she was. Or as pretty. Or as perfect.
“You have it so easy. You’ll never know what it’s like to be caught between two worlds,” she said. She spoke to me like this often, all frustrated and out of gas.
“Was it like this, you know, when you came to America?”
Mom returned to the refuge of her window. “No, not at all.” I couldn’t hear her well, and I took the opportunity to move in closer to her, smelling her Calvin Klein Obsession. “I was so scared. I had puked so much on the plane that when it finally landed, I could hardly walk. Your grandma had to carry me off it.”
I didn’t doubt what my mother had said. She had never lied to me. If she didn’t want me to know the truth, she would just hide it from me. But I couldn’t picture Grandma carrying my mother. All of my life, it had been Mom who was strong.
As we approached Tampa International the captain got on the intercom and welcomed us to the Sunshine State. He flipped the seatbelt light off. The mother in front of me sang to her baby: we’re here, we’re finally here, and the kid behind me hollered that he was going to build the biggest sandcastle ever! As I held Grandma closer and reached down for my backpack, I was doing everything I could to not jump out of my seat and sing, too: I am here, I am finally here.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Roots and Wings 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
After her grandmother dies, Grace finds herself and her mom on a trip to the Cambodian community of St. Petersburg, Florida, to give her grandmother a proper funeral. But Grace plans on using her first trip to a Cambodian community for more than just a funeral. She plans on solving some mysteries, like why she's never met her father, and why her mom and grandma left St. Petersburg to begin with.

Once in St. Petersburg, Grace is warmly welcomed by her mom's old friends but judged harshly by others due to a family history she had very little to do with. As her family mysteries are slowly solved, Grace finds herself falling farther away from her mother -- and all she can do is wonder how anything can ever be the same.

All I can say is that ROOTS AND WINGS is amazing. I knew nothing of the Cambodian culture before I read this but I could still relate immensely to Grace and the struggles she was facing. The different reactions she faced from the members of the community, along with the different parts of her history she discovered, all worked together to create an appealing and thoughtful novel about the hardships and love of the Cambodian culture that anyone, Cambodian or not, can enjoy.
smg5775 5 months ago
Cambodian refugees have come to the US after the Vietnam War. They try to keep as many customs in the US as they had in Cambodia. Their children, being born in the US, do not understand the customs nor the silence the parents keep about the past. When they ask why they are to do something, the adults don't explain and there is hurt feelings on both sides. Grace is never told about the past. She comes to know it and then understands why her mother and grandmother never told her. I found this interesting. Being born in the US, I never gave a thought about talking of the past. We do it a lot. After reading this I understand why my grandparents did not tell their children of the hardships of the old country. I also understood Grace's side because if no one will answer her questions, not only of her family's past but of the culture they follow within the Cambodian culture, how can she learn so she does not offend others. The characters of the book who help Grace teach her a lot about the past and her culture as well as the whys. This is a good read.