:01 First Second, an imprint of Roaring Book Press. 2023
Food is a focal point in this memoir told in graphic format about Thien Pham and his family’s journey from Vietnam to America. Each culinary memory brings Thien one step closer to fitting in.
The book begins with Thien as an adult, sitting at his desk ready to begin his story by asking himself what is his first memory. We turn the page and we see a boat full of people, refugees, fleeing Vietnam. Thien is five. He recalls being hungry and thirsty until a ship stops and sells them food. Mmmm! Watermelon. But, soon after, pirates attack the ship. Thien’s mother tells him to hold on tight to her. “Don’t let go.” After the brutal attack ends, Thien remembers eating a rice ball his mother had saved in her pocket. “I can still taste that rice ball…the saltiness of the fish…the sweetness of the rice.”
After a stay in a refugee camp, the family finds a sponsor who brings them to sunny San Jose, California where the family works hard in their pursuit of the American Dream.
Each chapter, eight in all, show Thien navigating American culture as he grows. In the last chapter, chapter 8: Rice and Fish, Thien is an adult. He teaches art in a college and is distressed by the news. “-Let’s send them back where they came from! Build the Wall! Build the Wall! Build the Wall! Build the Wall! When he expresses his sorrow at the hateful rhetoric, his friends and colleagues say that the only way to change the hate is to become a US citizen and vote. The book closes with the naturalization ceremony where Thien and many others from around the world are graced with a special message from President Barak Obama.
“Remember, that in America, no dream is impossible. Like the millions of immigrants who have come before you, you have the opportunity to enrich this country through your contributions to civic society. You can help write the next great chapter in our American story. Together, we can keep the beacon that is America burning bright for all the world to see.”
Afterwards, Thien registers to vote!
The last part of Family Style is drawn in black and white, has Thien answering questions fans asked about the making of the book.
Middle and high school students will appreciate the underlying message of accepting people based on who they are inside, especially with today’s current events. “Just find good people. It doesn’t matter where they come from or where they are. Just find people who will go out of their way to make you happy and who you’d do the same for.”