September 09, 2012

One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way

by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press
128 pp.
Ages 8-12

Eight-year-old Son Thi Anh Tuyet's story begins in Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue From War (Pajama Press, 2011) with her rescue from Saigon when the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong relentlessly bombarded the city at the conclusion of the Vietnam War.  Along with numerous babies from the orphanage, Tuyet is given transport to Canada.  And, regardless of her polio-stricken left foot and leg which she believes makes her unadoptable, Tuyet is welcomed into the Morris household in Ontario.

So begins One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way, the next chapter of Tuyet's life, as a new sister to Beth, 4; Lara, 3, adopted from Calcutta; and baby Aaron, also from Vietnam.  Though far from the bombings and orphanage life in Vietnam, Tuyet is still troubled.  She experiences nightmares and poor sleep, finding reassurance in sleeping on the floor near family so that she might hear them nearby.  She cannot understand English very well yet, so communication is difficult, though she recognizes the love and safety she feels in the Morris' home, now hers.  And she continues to suffer with her disabled foot and leg that prevent her from walking properly, running, and even kicking a ball.  Overriding everything, though, is her fear that she may have to leave the Morris' and perhaps return to Vietnam.

Though it has been explained to her that she will be going to McMaster Hospital for an operation for her leg and foot, Tuyet is not prepared emotionally for being separated from her new family and the aftermath of the operation.  In the 1970's, Canada's multicultural identify had not quite blossomed fully and translation services were essentially non-existent.  Awakening to find her leg "in cement" is distraction enough, but being unable to communicate her overwhelming pain leaves Tuyet feeling even more vulnerable.  Luckily her simple "I want Mom and Dad" brings Dad to help, as he does throughout the whole process of Tuyet using her crutches, being fitted for braces, and getting regular physiotherapy.

Tuyet's new life is filled with many "firsts", which she sometimes sadly connects with her past.  Balloons, the hospital, birthday presents and cake with burning candles, leg casts, and even a crop duster plane cause some confusion and even distress but the compassion and support John and Dorothy Morris extend to their new daughter and the unconditional love of her new siblings remedies most of her fears and pains.  Ultimately, coupled with a pair of little red shoes, Tuyet's life is changed forever.

Just as she so eloquently did in Last Airlift, Marsha Skrypuch gently takes the reader by the hand to observe the young girl's new life from Tuyet's viewpoint.  The thoughts in Tuyet's young mind are varied, complex and even irrational (from an adult's point of view, of course) but they are real and overwhelming to an eight-year-old, and even Tuyet astutely recognizes that "not all hurts show on the outside." (pg. 90) Not the princess dreams and perfect endings of fairy tales, Tuyet's story is all the more satisfying when her anxieties and confusions are resolved fittingly, just as her shoes are, though not perfectly, and provide the hope necessary to help her take her next steps.  A wonderful tale of making things fit, whether they be people or shoes.

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If you can make the book launch for One Step at a Time: A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way on Wednesday September 19, you will be fortunate enough to visit with both author Marsha Skrypuch and her guest, Tuyet.