Butterfly Yellow: A Novel by Thanhha Lai

This year the Texas Center for the Book chose Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai as a “Texas Great Read.” Access to this book is available through January 16, 2020.

Read the book by visiting this site, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/greatreadtexas

Butterfly Yellow has won four major literary prizes: Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices, Scott O’Dell Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature Best Books.

Though its marketed for young adults, adults may also enjoy this powerful portrait of a family affected by loss and separation. Set in Texas, the novel pivots around two outsiders, Hang and LeeRoy.

Hang, a refugee who has recently escaped Vietnam by boat, finds Texas baffling. LeeRoy, the son of two professors from the Northeast, pretends to be a a real cowboy. He is also an outsider, a fact he carefully hides behind Texas slang.

Hang finally finds her long lost brother, Linh, yet he refuses to speak to her. Renamed David, after he was adopted by Americans, Linh boards his horse in the ranch where LeeRoy and Hang work.

Though LeeRoy and Hang argue–he does not want to be “stuck” with her all summer–he comes to appreciate her calm, yet fiery demeanor during a thunderstorm.

Hang has kept many secrets from her family. She has been silent about how and why Linh was evacuated in “Operation Babylift” in 1975. She lets Ba, her Grandmother, come to the conclusion that Linh was kidnapped.

Six years later, after a terrible crossing, Hang is disappointed to find that her brother does not remember much about her or Vietnam. To help her brother remember, she draws pictures of Vietnamese fruit–dragon fruit, jack fruit, guava, persimmon, rambutan–and hopes Linh remembers.

This novel addresses identity, family, and race relations while also providing a heart-felt and humorous portrait of two strangers, LeeRoy and Hang. Despite coming from opposite corners of the world, they become close friends who treasure their differences. According to Thanhha Lai, “Sometimes true connection sprouts between two most unlikely people.”

The novel is also about healing; Hang has suffered terrible trauma, but in west Texas, she can start over. Like LeeRoy, Hang can let some dreams go so others may grow. She isn’t going to always be “waiting around for her brother.” She has her own plans now.

Educators may like to use the Texas State Library’s Educator Guide or direct students to the resources available on Texshare’s book connections.

If you like Butterfly Yellow, you may want to try Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch’s Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue From War. Skrypuch focuses on the true story of Son Thi Anh Tuyet who was adopted by a Canadian couple.