Graphic Novel Review: Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham
Posted on November 16, 2023 at 8:09 am by Gene Ambaum
Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham. First Second, 2023. 9781250809728. 236pp. including endnotes in the form of Q&A comic strips. http://www.powells.com/book/-9781250809728?partnerid=34778&p_bt
Pham’s graphic memoir starts with his first memory, when he was five, on an overcrowded boat with his family. They’re given aid by a boat, and then shortly after they’re attacked by pirates; during the attack Pham’s mom holds him and urges him to keep his eyes closed, telling him she’s right there and that everything will be okay. It’s one of the most intense and riveting scenes I’ve ever read. (If this book doesn’t win a few major comics awards from the library and comics communities because of that scene alone, something is wrong.) His family lives at Songkhla Refugee Camp, where Pham makes friends and his mom takes over a restaurant to support their family. Then they get the chance to settle in the US where his parents work exceedingly hard, he meets a familiar friend from the camps, and then he discovers potato chips. The book jumps forward to Pham’s teen years when his parents are once again entrepreneurs, and then again at the end of the book to a time closer to now, when Pham worked at a school with Gene Yang. (Seeing Yang through Pham’s eyes is fun; read the great graphic novel they did together, Level Up, if you haven’t.)
At the heart of the book is the story of Pham becoming American (minor spoiler: he gets his citizenship in the final part of the book), and throughout he relates the journey to the food he ate and his family and friends. This is the kind of remarkable, emotional story librarians and readers love to share with everyone, and it’s amazing to see that Pham continues to improve as a storyteller with every book.