The Stone Goddess by Minfong Ho 2003 (First Person Fiction series)
Orchard Books Scholastic
IQ "As flowers sacred to Buddhism we had always been taught that because the lotus had its roots in the mud, grew trough the murky water, and blossomed in the open air, each lotus was like the human spirit." Nakri pg. 4
Nakri Sokha and her family live peaceful lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Nakri's mother teaches Nakri and her older sister, Teeda the beautiful classical dances of Cambodia and Teeda aspires to one day dance the highest role, the role of an aspara (celestial dancer). All that changes when the Khmer Rouge takes over Phonm Penh. Nakri and her family are forced to evacuate the city and eventually Nakri, her brother Boran and Teeda are taken away to a labor camp. Nakri despairs of ever seeing her family again, but Teeda keeps her hopes up. Once they are finally reunited with their family, they head to Thailand, and from there, America. But nothing is the same after the cruel Communist rule of the Khmer Rouge and Nakri can't forget about all that she saw and endured.
This might not be as big a deal to anyone else, but I wanted more dance details :) I wanted to learn more about celestial dancers, the steps. the costumes, the music, the stories. I also would have preferred to read the story from an older teen's view. Nakri (who is twelve) doesn't know about much that is going on and since I didn't either, I wanted more details about how the Khmer Rouge came to power. I knew they were cruel obviously and I remember the name of the leader (Pol Pot) but I wanted to understand why they were allowed to run rampant for so many years, was there opposition to their rule? Finally, I had a problem with the narrative of the story. It starts off rather quickly which is fine. Then, Nakri heads off to the labor camp and apparently three years went by. There was no indication that time was passing at all, and I suppose that's ok because being in a labor camp is probably the same thing everyday: backbreaking work and cruel supervisors, but I didn't think I got a chance to really see how Nakri and Teeda coped with their situation. Then time flies by in the Thailand at a refugee camp and ends in America. The America scenes are towards the end and the book ended rather too abruptly for my taste.
My favorite thing about this book were the strong and vivid family relationships. Nakri and her sister, Teeda have such a close bond and it's a great thing to read about. It's almost unreal because none of the siblings argue with each other. I didn't know that was possible! Teeda tells Nakri stories and watches over her as does her older brother, Boran. Their youngest brother, Yan, doesn't make many appearances in the story but he gets along well with everyone else. Nakri's parents are genuine, they aren't overly mean or cold and they aren't soft and forgiving either. They are a mixture of both, like most parents. As much as I complained about the narrative from a child's perspective, it did (over)simplify things and I still got the basic idea of what was going on. There was plenty of details about everyday life in Cambodia, the people, the buildings, the food. I felt immersed in the culture.
The Stone Goddess is a horrifying read in that the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge is aggravating and yet sadly, believable. The writing and characters are rather simple and the situation seems to be too simple but it's still informative. How many students today know anything about Cambodia (I'm not even sure I could point it out on a map. I vaguely know the area)? I do wish that the story hadn't been so simple and that the family wasn't so nice. At the same time, the cozy family relationship was refreshing and there was enough drama and hardship to keep me turning the pages. The final scene, while abrupt is absolutely beautiful.
Disclosure: From the library
Throwback Thursday is hosted by Take Me Away