In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis and The Scarlet Letter, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, teenage rebellion, and assimilation, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents.
Tran's debut memoir...recounts in stunning detail his coming of age in white, small-town America ... Tran...structures the narrative around works ranging from The Scarlet Letter to Homer’s Iliad. This approach expresses themes like longing, love and rebellion, but is emblematic of assimilation in and of itself, and of the ways white supremacist roles of race and class infiltrate identity formation. This framework is perhaps the book’s most powerful hinge ... In laying out his childhood around themes and metaphors, Tran makes his own Great American Memoir ... full of humor and wordplay. This is a writer who loves language, and whose keen sense of observation lends a great deal of humor in the layers ... Tran also does a service to this memoir by containing it in a period of time, closing as high school ends. By focusing on the rich trove of youth without the 'after,' this journey never lets go of its nostalgia even while critiquing it.
... affecting, deeply felt ... [Tran] writes movingly about his struggle for acceptance and his two-pronged attack to achieve assimilation ... A clever conceit, in this connection, is his naming each chapter with the title of a great book and then finding a parallel with his life in each. The result is a compelling story of an outsider discovering himself and a world where he fit in.
Tran has written the great punk rock immigrant story. Or should that be the definitive refugee punk rock story? Or a story about how punk rock and great books helped a Vietnamese kid in small-town America fit in by standing out? Whatever order we put the words in, Tran’s book is my pick for the best, the funniest and the most heartfelt memoir of the year ... With grace and clarity, Tran writes pivotal scenes involving the sometimes violent disconnect between his traumatized refugee parents and their Americanized children—a testament to the sensitivity and balance he brings to his exploration of generational and cultural conflict ... filters the archetypal high school misfit story through the lens of immigration and assimilation, building it into a larger narrative about the ways music and books can bring us together, even when the larger world threatens to tear us apart.