The true stories in Hmong-American memoirist and St. Paul writer Kao Kalia Yang’s collection are haunting and vivid ... In this book, there is no avoiding empathy ... The perspective of a child — so light, so clear — against the ominous backdrop of adult whispering, classmates disappearing and armed border guards — gives an innocence and charm to these stories that is tender and poignant ... Reading these stories is like opening doors and finding yourself in the living rooms of neighbors you’ve hardly talked to. Thank you, Kao Kalia Yang, for opening these doors.
... affecting ... rather than full histories, [Yang's] chapters offer glimpses of lives before, of escapes, of stopovers, of arrivals, of transformation ... While personal experiences cannot be judged, narratively, as literature, some stories prove stronger and more affecting than others. An epilogue would have strengthened the work, providing a fuller overview for readers to further invest in each of the family and friends Yang introduces. That said, these voices are here, their stories are here, to provide an intimate window into once faraway lives, now intertwined together in a community they call home.
... [an] elegant testimony to the connections that endure in lives that have been uprooted and torn apart ... Their remarkable stories, though they differ in their details, join together in a chorus of survival and strength. Add this memorable collection to the growing shelves of books documenting the immigrant journey.
... serves as an object lesson in the utility of creative nonfiction ... This is a work of technical as well as empathetic mastery ... The stories are as powerful as they are unique, and Yang makes the wise decision to get out of the way and let her subjects express themselves ... Throughout, the author’s straight-ahead, declarative sentences can’t conceal that her presence is all over this book. Her immersively descriptive language is reminiscent of her two previous memoirs and her delicate touch allows us to see what is right in front of us: luck. If we are not refugees, we might have been. If our lives have been relatively stable, they may not remain so ... A potent lesson in empathy that is all the more powerful for never presenting itself as a lesson.