The Trouble Begins Review

The Trouble Begins
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is exceedingly difficult to stop myself from jumping up and down as I talk about THE TROUBLE BEGINS, a unique and fun tale of a young boy who has journeyed to contemporary America to rejoin the parents and siblings he hasn't seen since his infancy. In fact, if you are within a half hour of Sebastopol, California, teach third, fourth, or fifth grade, and would like me to come read this really delightful and eye-opening book to your class for the next couple of weeks, then email me and I'll be over there on Monday.
"At lunch in the cafeteria the lunch is ugly. It's cheese--stringy like snot--on mushy noodles, with chocolate milk, sickly sweet and not very cold. I eat the apple slices. I raise my hand to be excused to go to the playground. Veronica sits next to me because Mrs. Dorfman makes us walk in line. Veronica says, 'You gotta eat half before you can get up, Du.' She says it loud enough for the lunch aide to hear. The lunch aide shakes her head at me: 'No, you can't go yet' and nods at my food: 'Eat that first.' I shrug and sit there.
"Veronica's talking to the girl on her other side. I take my chocolate milk and pour it into Veronica's backpack. I stuff my cheesy mushy noodles into the empty milk carton. I raise my hand. The lunch aide nods 'Yes, you can go now' and smiles happily at my empty tray. As I leave for the playground I hear Veronica shriek."
Du's parents and siblings had departed Vietnam for the US at the end of the war. But Du and his paternal grandmother were suffering from tuberculosis and weren't permitted to accompany the family. Instead, his grandma escaped Vietnam with Du, selling her gold jewelry to secure passage on a flimsy, overcrowded little boat. They made it safely to the Philippines, got over TB, and spent eight years living in a refugee camp until the family saved up the funds for their passage. Now it's 1984 when Du and Grandma arrive in America.
" 'They could have brought Ma's sister and her mother but they saved and saved and brought you and you're just a bad-luck kid,' Vuong says.
I'm an oldest sibling myself, and am known for sometimes not being overly sympathetic to the plight of a youngest, but Du's older, Americanized brother and sisters (Vuong, Lin, and Thuy) are so darn overbearing that I can't help but cheer for Du as he gradually proves himself to them.
" 'Clothes cost money!' he shouted. He doesn't even know about my shirt in the trash and my smelly shoes."
Du's father is struggling hard to support the family, and his having come from being a respected property owner in Vietnam to renting a little house and having to work for a verbally abusive boss here does nothing for Ba's personality--especially after getting several phone calls at work from Du's school principal.
Shades of Dennis the Menace: The most memorable relationship in the book is that between Du and the old man living by himself next door.
"Saturday is a long day. I get up early to look for Cat. I blow some weed seeds toward the old man's grass. He was okay about the bike. The seeds won't grow anyway or he'll pull them up before they have a chance. He'll get some exercise. It's good for him."
They definitely get off on the wrong foot, and Du frequently refers to him as the old spy, but in the long run he and Mr. W show each other a thing or two. Along the way, though, Du does get himself in enough zany predicaments to merit a "Menace" label of his own.
So many of those predicaments result from the language and cultural barriers he faces. Fortunately, Du's grandma spent those years raising him in the Philippines. She's clearly done a great job of seeing that the boy has a good sense of resourcefulness and self-esteem.
It works so well to have this story told through Du's own eyes. I'm sure it will certainly impress many readers to recognize Du's frustration when even the teacher and administrators make incorrect assumptions because of their ignorance of the boy's life and culture before arriving in America.
THE TROUBLE BEGINS is a title that certainly invites a follow-up. Hey, count me in! I'll take all of this kind of trouble I can get.

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