Author and illustrator, Thien Pham, shares memories of his life framed around particular foods he remembers.
The book starts with a memory from when he was five years old on a small boat in the ocean fleeing Vietnam and encountering pirates. He remembers eating a rice ball his mother saved for him. His next memories come from his time in the refugee camp in Thailand when his mother purchased a banh cuon stall in order to support their family. After finally making it to America, Thien recalls his first American meal, steak and potatoes, as well as the luxury of fresh strawberries and potato chips. Life is hard for Thien’s family but they persevere together, opening their own café then converting it to a video rental store. Thien recalls attending an American school and reuniting with a friend he made at the refugee camp. The last few memories he shares are about the American disposition toward immigrants, especially the loud, angry messages, and his work to become a full American citizen with the support of his friends and family.
Sometimes words aren’t enough to convey all the emotions and meaning you want to share with others. This theme is prevalent throughout Family Style as Thien Pham’ excellent illustrations impart little things like the language barrier (word clouds full of lines and the occasional word that is recognized) or how tired his parents were so often. There were not very many bright colors used. Light seems to be used to show time of day. The muted colors serve to highlight and support the storytelling. Bright colors would have detracted from the serious tone used throughout. Personally, I find graphic memoirs more powerful than just words on a page or in audio form. It can be hard to imagine or picture someone else’s experiences from just words, so the illustrations express both the hardships and trauma as well as the triumphs and joys this family found together while pursuing the American dream.
The endnotes section contains a series of interviews and insights as the author answers some frequently asked questions like what his parents think of how he told the story and what they played with at the refugee camp. Although there are heavy topics introduced and discussed, I would recommend adding this to any graphic novel collection. It brings a perspective to light that not everyone has a chance to encounter in their everyday lives. The author keeps the illustrations pretty PG-13 and does show some violence on the page. The best use of this title would be for a parent to read it with their young ones and have discussions at the end of each memory/chapter.
Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam
By Thien Pham
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Vietnamese American
Character Representation: Vietnamese American