The Illiterate Daughter: The Young Guardian, Book One

by Chia Gounza Vang

Teen Historical Fiction, independently published

December, 2021

From Amazon blurb:

“In war torn Laos, thirteen-year-old Nou daydreams of the legendary heroes and mythical beings who live in the folklore stories she loves to hear. Remembering them helps her ignore physical pain as she struggles through the endless chores expected of a dutiful daughter. Each night, she examines the two books given to her by her ex-soldier father and prays for an end to the Vietnam War.”

Although I read many self-published books, I rarely review them. This, though, demands that effort from me.  In the most respectful way possible,  I hope to demand that readers spend time meeting Nou and her family, learning about a time in history that is too little understood, or is neglected, distorted, or actively ignored.

It is easy to miss the “BOOK ONE” in the title that indicates this is the first book in a series that will follow Nou through her changing life, in geography, circumstances, relationships, and self-awareness. even if a stand-alone title, the scenes and intensity of character, culture, crisis, and concern are page-turning and absorbing, yet they reveal and inform with details and revelations about the daily life of people trapped and betrayed by political forces on all sides. The fact that we can expect to meet her again in future books is a bonus.

Nou’s role as a middle child, as a girl, also trap her in a culture that denies her what she wants most- to learn to read. The patterns of duties, discipline, and sometimes desperation will elicit emotional reactions, but readers should avoid judgments. This is fully developed view of a culture different from ones most commonly portrayed in familiar novels, but that is a welcome revelation to expand and inform young minds.

Nou’s series has the tag YOUNG GUARDIAN for many valid reasons. Each event, each challenge in her journey of personal growth and family roles strengthens her capacity to move beyond the deeply traditional cultural expectations into which she was born. Her intense drive to learn to read comes from her storytelling talent, but she discovers that reading can be a survival skill, too.

This is a sensitively-constructed  story that was inspired by various true experiences, written with rich details. I imagine that it will ring true to those many who lived in those times and places, but will also make young readers feel immersed in that very real world. Hmong Americans have far too few books that reflect or reveal their history, and those of us who are NOT Hmong also suffer from that lack. It is also America’s national history, and one we should all learn. In this novel we can expand our understanding while meeting a character who rises from the page and stands fully formed in our lives. Nou is a character reader will want to meet again.

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