CHILDREN OF THE RIVER
New York : Delacorte, 1989
IL YA .
is a good Cambodian girl. She works hard at school and gets good grades.
She respects her aunt and uncle, whom she lives with. She works after school
on a farm with her family. She's successful. She drives a car and does
the grocery shopping. The problems is, she feels guilty because she's starting
to break away from her family's rules -- strict Cambodian rules about girls
not dating boys, family arranged marriages, no luxuries and strong Khmer
nationality. Jonathan, a school sports star, wants to get to know Sundara
after her English assignment on one of life's problems reveals a hint of
the trauma Sundara has lived through. Sundara is a refugee. She escaped
without her parents or sisters. She was sent away with her aunt and uncle
because her aunt had just had a baby and needed help. Now, Sundara feels
guilty because the baby died. She has no knowledge of her family back home
and she is living a very good life here. Even though she likes the young
man that the family has arranged for her to marry, she finds herself drawn
to Jonathan. With all this self-doubt, her aunt and uncle think she's bad.
Jonathan's girlfriend thinks she's trying to break them up and all the
time, Sundara tries to act as if nothing is wrong.
I think if more of us read
book like CHILDREN OF THE RIVER, we would be less quick to label newcomers
as weird, or stuck-up or even just bashful and boring. We might make the
effort as Jonathan does, to be sensitive to their hesitancy to make connections
with us, and still persist because everyone needs to have a friend their
Asian Americans -- Fiction
Khmers -- Fiction
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