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When Heaven Fell

When Heaven Fell

5.0 4
by Carolyn Marsden

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When a Vietnamese girl receives a visit from her half-American aunt, brimming curiosity — and cultural misperceptions — come to the fore.

Every day nine-year-old Binh sells fruit and sodas to the girls whose families can afford to send them to school, and every night she returns to her one-room home to share a simple meal with her family.


When a Vietnamese girl receives a visit from her half-American aunt, brimming curiosity — and cultural misperceptions — come to the fore.

Every day nine-year-old Binh sells fruit and sodas to the girls whose families can afford to send them to school, and every night she returns to her one-room home to share a simple meal with her family. Everything changes, however, when her grandmother tells Binh she had a daughter during the war, a child who was sent away to America as a little girl. Now Di Hai — Binh’s aunt, a teacher — is coming to visit, and Binh can’t help but wonder what luxurious gifts she will bring.

Yet when Di Hai arrives, there are so many confusing things about her: she’s taller than the men, she’s not married, and her presents are mere trinkets that could have come from Third Aunt’s tourist shop! Still, Binh secretly hopes Di Hai will take her to live in America. Can her aunt live up to her expectations? Carolyn Marsden tells Binh’s story with warmth and sensitivity as she ushers readers into the life and dreams of a young Vietnamese girl.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Marsden (The Gold-Threaded Dress) once again mingles two cultures, but less successfully here than in her previous books. The story unfolds primarily through the third-person perspective of nine-year-old Binh, who sells fruit and soda from a cart in her Vietnamese village. In the second chapter, she learns that her maternal grandmother, Ba Ngoai, has another daughter, Thao, fathered by an American soldier. To save Thao's life after the Communists won the Vietnam War, Ba Ngoai sent her to America 30 years earlier, when the child was five. Now Thao is coming to visit, and Binh and her family imagine all the presents this presumably rich American will bring. But Thao brings only several small gifts, such as a pair of bookends-put to use as doorstops since the family owns no books. While in her previous books Marsden integrated exotic cultural details smoothly into the text, here the narrative turns jarringly expository at times ("The highway was lined with the red and yellow satin banners of the Communist government. Some banners had a yellow star, others a hammer and sickle"). Still, Binh witnesses some poignant scenes, such as when Thao confides that she initially had a difficult time in the U.S., "I wasn't Vietnamese anymore... And I didn't feel American either." The characters-save Binh-may remain curiously at a distance, but Marsden brings her tale to a satisfying close. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Gail C. Krause
Nine-year-old Binh sold fruit on a cart in the streets as part of her contribution to her family's income. It was forty years after the Vietnam war ended and her family was still struggling to survive. Her father and brother worked in a motorcycle repair shop, her Third Aunt sold novelties to the tourists, and her cousin Cuc, helped in the shop. Binh's biggest customers were the girls whose families were rich enough for them to go to school. She and Cuc made fun of those girls, because they could not be one of them. One evening after the family dinner, Binh's grandmother announced that her long lost First Daughter was returning from America. Grandmother explained to the family that the girl's father was American and she gave her to the soldiers when they left Vietnam, in hopes she would have a better life in the homeland of her father. If she stayed in Vietnam, people would have killed her. When Di Thao finally arrived, the family's expectations were shattered. All they knew of America was from the movies. Di Thao, wasn't like the movie stars. She dressed simply and brought only one bag, not the many material gifts the family had grown to expect. The family showed Di Thao honor, but she found it hard to fit into her family's culture. She chose to sleep in the yard, away from the extended family. She didn't eat all the prepared foods and she didn't understand their ways. Binh had expected that her Aunt would take her back to America, but Di Thao explained to her that she could not. She tried to show Binh that leaving one's own culture was hard. The ending brings a degree of satisfaction to all.
School Library Journal

Gr 3–5
Vietnamese and American cultural assumptions are woven seamlessly into the plot in this accessible and inviting story. Nine-year-old Binh is fascinated to know that she has an American aunt, who at age five was sent to the U.S. as part of Operation Babylift. Now Di, 35, comes to Vietnam to visit her birth mother and other relatives. Binh knows that all Americans are rich and imagines her aunt taking her home with her to live in the house that looks so enormous in photos. Binh, too poor to attend school, is embarrassed to tell her aunt that she helps her family eke out a living by selling fruit from a cart, and Di knows little of Vietnamese culture. With some final, brave efforts at communicating, Binh finally helps Di sort out what is and isn't offensive in Vietnam, and the tension is dispelled. Direct language, a balance of simple and complex sentences, and a generous use of white space will pull in younger readers, giving them more depth than is typical in early chapter books. Despite unfamiliar words and a rather large cast of characters, the story of Binh and her family shines through the spare text, creating a welcome chance to experience another culture. Pair this with Andrea Warren's Escape from Saigon (Farrar, 2004) for a nonfiction look at the same topic.
—Faith BrautigamCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Nine-year-old Binh has dreamed of leaving her home in Vietnam and seeing the outside world, but now that world is coming to her. Binh's grandmother, Ba Ngoai, announces that her daughter, Di, is coming from America, and since Binh thinks all Americans are rich, maybe she'll bring a new bike, or a CD player, a radio, dresses. Maybe she'll take her back to America. But Binh comes to learn that her aunt is not rich, and her time in America has not been easy; she wasn't Vietnamese anymore, and she wasn't American. Back in Vietnam, she doesn't understand that culture either. In this sensitive tale of cultural misperceptions, Binh and Di learn from each other, and Di finds a way to fulfill Binh's dream of making her way into the world. Marsden's simply written story of family and the legacy of war is full of subtle details about life in contemporary Vietnam, and Binh is an appealing young girl whose dreams will resonate with all young readers. A good match with Andrea Warrren's Escape from Saigon (2004). (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 7.25(h) x 0.74(d)
710L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Binh shifted her legs. She wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, the air warm from the lingering heat of the day and the eveningcooking fire. What was everyone waiting for?

Suddenly, Ba Ngoai folded her hands in her lap, chaining them together, fingers locked. "I have important news. My daughter is coming to see me." She pulled herself up very tall.

Binh looked around the room. Daughter? Ma was right here. Whoever could Ba Ngoai be talking about?


WHEN HEAVEN FELL by Carolyn Marsden. Copyright © 2007 by Carolyn Marsden. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

Meet the Author

Carolyn Marsden is the author of several acclaimed novels for young readers. She says, "In January 2005, I traveled in Vietnam with a Buddhist delegation led by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The people I met and the stories I heard in Vietnam inspired this story of Binh." Carolyn
Marsden lives in La Jolla, California.

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When Heaven Fell 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
KikiD870 More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book as part of an independent reading assignment for a children's literature assignment on multiculturalism.  I loved it so much I wanted to share it here. A full disclaimer... in my previous life, I was a Vietnamese linguist in the US Army.  Because of that, I fell in love with all things Vietnamese culture, a big reason I chose this novel.  The messages of this book are both eye-opening and beautiful, and it truly shows the differences and assumptions that are often made about different cultures.   It is set in relatively contemporary times in Vietnam.  Binh is 9 years old and has spent her entire life in her village, never even seeing her own country.  She lives with her parents, her brother, and her grandmother in a tiny one-room home nestled next to the river.  Her days are spent by the highway, selling fruit and soda to passersby.  Although school is free in communist Vietnam, the uniforms and books are not and her family cannot afford to send her to school.  A little cost comparison... school costs approximately 600,000 dong in southern Vietnam, which today is equivalent to about $28.   Ba Ngoai, Binh's grandmother, finds out that her long-lost daughter Thao is coming to visit her.  Ba Ngoai has not seen her daughter since she gave her away after the end of the war when the Communist regime threatened the lives of Vietnamese children of American mixed blood.  Thao's father was an American soldier, her life at risk.  Binh's family sees all Americans as rich and assume that Thao will bring them gifts, gifts that will bring them a life of ease, maybe even a move to the States.  Instead, Thao comes with little, seemingly meaningless gifts.  The entire book is a journey for Binh to understand that there are gifts and beauty to be found in her own country, in her own life.  Thao learns about the value of things that she takes for granted, how much those very things mean to the family left behind.  There is so much to learn about diversity and culture and values in this book and it is simply beautiful.  There is a quote from a story within the book told by a Buddhist monk that I love.  The story was about a rich man looking for his runaway cows.  No one had seen them and after he left, the Buddha told his followers that the mand was burdened by his cows and that they were the lucky ones, having no cows to worry abot.        Please think about your cows.  Some cows may be possessions  Others may be ideas you cling to.  Think of releasing your cows. My Recommendation:  Although a middle grade book, it is a beautiful story that I highly recommend!
Ana_Y More than 1 year ago
I've read this book several times! There is a lot of descriptive writing, and the plot is great. Definitely one of Carolyn Mardsen's best books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Every child, no matter where they live, is consequently drawn into the financial and social dilemmas of their society. In 'When Heaven Fell', nine-year-old Binh is no exception. Made to sell fruit and drinks from a cart on the streets of her home in Vietnam to earn extra money for her family, she hides her face when the girls whose families can afford to send them to school stop to buy her fruit. She stares with envy as the older girls ride their bikes while wearing beautiful flowing dresses. Binh watches American films in awe believing all Americans are wealthy, and dreams of being part of such an exciting and care free world. Binh, along with her entire extended family, look for hope when her grandmother reveals that a daughter she had given up for adoption has located her and is coming to visit from America. With great anticipation, they await the treasures and stories she will bring, and even dream of returning to America with her. When Thao arrives, Binh¿s dreams and wishes quickly vanish, and instead she learns about a culture other than her own. Money and gifts do not create instant happiness, no matter what land or what culture you are from. Belonging and being loved are created from something else. Carolyn Marsden teaches this lesson through the moving and captivating story, 'When Heaven Fell'.