I am so supportive of all these thought middle grade books that are tackling difficult issues as poverty, immigration, and the refugee crisis. House Without Walls is just another addition to that amazing list.
For most people, home is a place with four walls. It’s a place to eat, sleep, rest, and live. For a refugee, the concept of home is ever-changing, ever-moving, ever-wavering. And often, it doesn’t have any walls at all.
Eleven-year-old Lam escapes from Vietnam with Dee Dee during the Vietnamese Boat People Exodus in 1979, when people from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fled their homelands for safety. For a refugee, the trip is a long and perilous one, filled with dangerous encounters with pirates and greedy sailors, a lack of food and water, and even the
stench of a dead body onboard. When they finally arrive at a refugee camp, Lam befriends Dao, a girl her age who
becomes like a sister-a welcome glimmer of happiness after a terrifying journey.
Readers will feel as close to Lam as the jade pendant she wears around her neck, sticking by her side throughout
her journey as she experiences fear, crushing loss, boredom, and some small moments of joy along the way.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Written in verse, House Without Walls is a haunting and raw story of a child’s journey to flee. A historical fiction middle grade, House Without Walls details Lam’s journey from Vietnam, fleeing the political change in power, to escape to anywhere. Her family has already been separated because of this conflict, and Lam is very aware of the danger not only to her family, but to herself as a girl.
The details are harrowing and even though Russell talks about how this version of events has been made accessible for children, it does not shy away from showing the danger and conditions they face. All while showing the way that children will, despite it all, remain children, have moments of joy and play.
House Without Walls asks us how we will act when faced with people in peril, danger, and fleeing. Will we take advantage of their vulnerability, or rise to action? House Without Walls showcases people doing both of these actions, when survival brings out the best and worst in us. It’s about a temporary home, how home changes as our relationship and location shift.