Cover Image: My Father, The Panda Killer

My Father, The Panda Killer

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Tough read, but well executed. Beautiful and heartbreaking and nuanced and complex and compelling with great writing

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In "My Father, The Panda Killer," the author masterfully weaves a powerful narrative that transcends time and place, delving into the complexities of familial relationships, heritage, and the enduring impact of war. With a dual narrative following the lives of Jane and Phúc, the readers are taken on an emotional journey that spans continents and generations.

Set in the backdrop of San Jose in 1999 and Đà Nẵng in 1975, the story unfolds with poignant detail and raw honesty. Jane's struggle to come to terms with her father's unpredictable temper and her own imminent departure for college forms the crux of the contemporary storyline. Through her introspective voice, readers are confronted with the harsh realities of domestic violence and the intergenerational trauma that often accompanies it.

On the other hand, Phúc's harrowing tale of survival and resilience amidst the aftermath of war in Vietnam adds a layer of historical depth to the narrative. The vivid depiction of his treacherous journey across the Pacific, marked by intense hardships and unfathomable loss, serves as a stark reminder of the enduring consequences of conflict.

The alternating perspectives of Jane and Phúc not only provide a well-rounded view of the multifaceted themes of the novel but also offer a nuanced exploration of cultural identity and the complexities of reconciling one's past. The author's adept handling of both voices enables the reader to empathize deeply with the characters, fostering a sense of connection that lingers long after the final page.

While the book excels in its portrayal of emotional depth and historical significance, there are moments when the pacing seems to lag, occasionally diverting the reader's attention from the otherwise compelling narrative. Despite this minor setback, the overall storytelling remains captivating and thought-provoking, leaving a lasting impression that resonates with the reader's own understanding of familial bonds and the enduring effects of conflict.

In "My Father, The Panda Killer," the author's skillful storytelling and profound exploration of themes make it a poignant and introspective read. By seamlessly blending the personal struggles of Jane with the historical trauma of Phúc, the novel offers a compelling narrative that encourages readers to reflect on the intricate dynamics of identity and resilience. With its evocative prose and heartfelt storytelling, "My Father, The Panda Killer" stands as a testament to the enduring power of family, heritage, and the resilience of the human spirit.

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I wasn't really sure what to make of this book. While the individual scenes were well written, the way they fitted together was less coherent. I get trying to understand a controlling abusive parent and the context o his traumatic early life and the book does a good job of explaining behavior without excusing it. But it has some believability issues

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This heartwrenching historical fiction novel follows Jane, a Vietnamese American teenager in 1999, and her father Phúc, as he escapes from Vietnam in 1975 at the age of eleven. Jane is preparing to go off to college, and worries about leaving her younger brother, Paul, alone with their father and his anger. Before leaving home, Jane gathers all the bits and pieces she's heard over the years about her father's past, and attempts to connect them, coming to a deeper understanding of her father and her culture along the way.

This was not an easy read. It doesn't shy away from the tough bits, and is so worth reading. Very, very emotional. Of course Phúc's experience as a refugee affect the adult he becomes. Like Jane, you can't truly forgive his actions, but you can come to a deeper understanding by hearing his story. This is a powerful novel about generational trauma and Vietnamese culture. Bring the tissues when reading this one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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Very interesting story that goes back and forth from the perspective of Jane and her father when he is boy escaping during the Vietnam war. It starts off with Jane complaining about her culture and family, but along the way learning about her dad, what he has been through, gives her a new appreciation for him, her family, and their beliefs.

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The generational trauma is strong here.

As you well know, I just about request every Vietnamese diaspora book. And I will 100% request anything where the author shares my surname. Helen Hoang, Jolie Hoang, and Brandon Hoàng, what what?

I nearly took off another star for the pain this made me feel, but as the story moved on, so did I. A story told in two parts, there is Jane in 1999 and Phúc in 1975. No, it isn't pronounced fuck. No, you're not funny.

Jane is one of those Vietnamese American teenagers that hates herself and her culture. I grew up very similarly, and it took many many years for me to feel comfortable in my own skin. She'll get there. She's rather unlikeable as a result, but I think she's meant to be.

Phúc is Jane's father, and white Americans would probably call him unnecessarily abusive. I'm not downplaying this. It's cultural, yes, but his trauma from fleeing the war also plays a part. Obviously, he is also very unlikeable, but again, I think he's meant to be.

Phúc's wife left the family, and in her absence, Jane is meant to be the family's caretaker. She cooks, even though no one has ever shown her how. She takes care of her younger brother, Paul, making sure he does his homework and often picking him up from school. She also manages the cash register at her father's liquor store. Before you cry child labor, this is a very normal immigrant child experience.

As we learn more about Jane's insecurities and Phúc's life before and while he fled Vietnam, we begin to grow a little closer to their characters. At the end of all of this, I don't want to say I liked them more, but I definitely understood the familiarity of everything I was reading.

This won't be for everyone, and not every book is, but if you are the child of immigrants or refugees, living in the diaspora, you will get something from this.

As always with books like this, I like that they don't translate all of the dialogue. If you care, Google it. If you don't, don't complain.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher.

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This was a hard read, but it was worth it. I think every trigger warning applies here. However, I think it gave a complex and mature view into how the Vietnam War affected the refugees and their descendants. Like it was stated in the book, I've never thought about the POVs of the refugees and the trauma many experienced as they left their homes; I've only really thought of the War in terms of US sentiment. To learn that much of the story is based on the author's parents' experiences as well is a lot to swallow. I wouldn't recommend it to EVERYONE, but I think there are teens out there who are mature and interested enough to read this book. And it gives voice to a group of people who are discussed but rarely seen as anything other than a statistic.

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Jane is dealing with a lot, especially since her mom left four years ago. It's now her last summer after high school and she has been accepted to college but is afraid to tell her Dad since she thinks he won't let her attend. She's also afraid for what it means to go to college and leave her younger brother alone with their Dad, since he can be violent and his moods can often change. Part of the book is told from Jane's perspective as she navigates this last summer and the other part follows her Dad's story from 1975 when he made the perilous journey out of Vietnam as a child and eventually to the United States. Jane also has the chance to meet more of her extended family and after hearing her cousin's stories, realizes they've all had to deal with the same physical and emotional abuse and family history that she went through. Overall, an unflinching look at family trauma and how that reverberates throughout the generations. This book really focuses on abuse and complex family situations which may be a difficult topic for some readers, but it covers a part of history that is not often discussed.

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3 stars
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this ARC
This was a complex book to read, and it's a complex book to rate. To start, this book was a lot darker and heavier than I expected it to be. That sounds silly based on the synopsis of it, but I was expecting some bits of lightness in the story. There really weren't any, and that made it a bit of a more difficult read for me. However, I can appreciate that the author did this because the story itself is about so many heavy topics; immigration, abuse, generational trauma...so, honestly, I don't really see a way the author could've added much lightness without taking away from the authenticity of the story, and I appreciate her choice to make it heavy even if it was difficult. Some things are better when they're difficult but authentic and this is one of them.
I think my biggest complaint about this story was Jane. I just didn't like her or the way she was written. I would've loved to just read this book from Phuc's point of view, and that's got me thinking maybe I should get more into historical fiction.
My favorite thing about this book was the author's notes at both the beginning and the end. I think she did such a wonderful job in her notes as well as throughout the story showing how complex different cultures and feelings around the cultures can be, especially when we add in something as equally complex as trauma can be. As much as I didn't like Jane, I could appreciate her struggle and I think it's both interesting and important for people to read these different points of view so that we can gain some knowledge into cultures we might not otherwise have had knowledge of.
I would recommend this to YA readers who enjoy historical fiction; I would recommend it to adults too, but with the caviat that I found Jane written in a much younger voice than 17. Also, please check your trigger warnings because again, this is a heavy, dark book that deals with many triggering topics. However, I think it's a very important read altogether of a family and how trauma can have such a large impact on us.

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Honest, powerful and eye-opening young adult novel told by two narrators - a teenage American born to immigrant parents and the father who emigrated from his homeland of Vietnam. Jane's father Phuc is violent, demanding, and trying to provide for his two children as a single-father. As Jane meets more of her extended family, she learns more of her father's history dating back to the Vietnam War and begins to understand the why behind many of his actions. Still, she wants to move forward with her own life, attend college, and become a different parent than her own. This is a powerful book with several scenes depicting child abuse - be mindful when offering to students as knowing their own background and providing conversations and context to them will be important.

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My Father, The Panda Killer is kind of a brutal read, and there’s a reason why the suggested age is 14 and up. But it’s also one of contemplation and hope.

The story unfolds through the alternating voices of Jane and Phúc — father and daughter who are both products of the situations in which they grew up. Neither childhood is great, and the stories of child physical and emotional abuse and the horrors of war can be hard to stomach.

What keeps you reading, however, is author Jamie Jo Hoang’s vulnerable and honest writing. She counters violence with forgiveness and highlights the complexities within relationships. It’s masterfully done, and has you rooting for both Jane and Phúc.

Hoang says My Father, The Panda Killer was inspired by her own personal relationships. “Looking for my father’s humanity has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” she writes in her letter to readers at the beginning of the book. She also notes that this complex dynamic between parents and children is not unique to Vietnam. The same can be said of Afghans and Ukrainians and many others.

My Father, The Panda Killer is a story that will stick with you a long time after finishing it.

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I've really appreciated the Asian representation in books lately, and YA fiction continues to do its job with representing so many groups.

This is a coming of age story told through two voices at two different times. Jane deals with her father who is physically abusive. Her father, Phuc, is surviving escaping the Vietnam war. There's generational trauma. There's also good insight into the realities people have faced in surviving and how their children are able to grow up in a different world yet still be impacted by war.. Thank you NetGalley and Random House Children's.

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Trigger Warnings: Generational trauma, physical abuse, violence

My Father, The Panda Killer is told through Jane, in San Jose, 1999, as she tries to explain to her 7-year-old brother why their dad can’t control his anger. It’s because back in his own country, in Đà Nẵng, Vietnam, 1975 Phúc (rhymes with Duke), is eleven the first time his mother through him through the minefields, fallen airplanes, and debris to a refugee boat. But, before the sun even rises, more than half the people aboard will perish. Fleeing the horrors of this homeland, Phúc’s difficult journey across the Pacific has just started as he fights to survive Thai pirates, starvation, hallucination, and the murder of a panda.

Told in alternating voices of Jane and Phúc, this novel tells the unflinching story of the Vietnam war, its impact on multiple generations, and how one American teenager battles along the path to accepting her heritage and herself.

This novel is definitely unflinching in the struggles and horrors Vietnamese boat people had to endure in order to survive. Jamie Jo Hoang brings to light how those experiences still trickle down generations and how, even in America, first generation children were raised in completely different worlds and conditions.

<spoiler> What got me was that after everything Phúc went through, when he meets Jane’s mom for the first time on the boat over to Guam from Hong Kong, he’s so dismissive of her and also so hard on her. Like - he wasn’t going to clean up after himself because she’s a woman and that’s what women do. And he gets mad at her for playing with a jump rope? We had gotten so much of his story and on that boat trip, it felt like Phúc flipped a switch and I didn’t get it. Maybe it’s because he was still trying to hold onto his Vietnamese culture, but still… </spoiler>

Overall, this is a beautiful novel that gives a wonderful insight on both the Vietnam War and what some first generation Americans (and others) have experienced as a result of the War. I would recommend this to those who want to read more about Vietnamese culture and the legacy of immigrant and refugee experiences.

*Thank you Crown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for a digital advance copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review

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My Father, The Panda Killer, by Jamie Jo Hoang, is an unflinching look at the effects of the war in Vietnam on the refugees who left that country in search of survival elsewhere. The writer is clear that some of the content is fictionalized but that it is based in the true story of her father's escape from Vietnam and the effects of what he witnessed and endured on the rest of his life and family. I have never read such a brutally honest book about domestic violence and it was, admittedly, difficult to read at times. But the writing is so astute, so vulnerable in its honesty, that it counters the violence with forgiveness, even compassion, without excusing the perpetrators of that violence. It's an extremely difficult balance to maintain, but it is handled masterfully. Some stories make an impact on your psyche and stay with you; this is one of those stories, and I am grateful to the author for helping to counter the lack of Vietnamese perspective in our American history books.

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Being the first American-born generation of a family is fraught with many challenges. This story allows the reader a glimpse of how foreign traditions and expectations clash with those common to U.S. culture. My mother was a first-generation American born to immigrants, and many of the elements of this story, though from a different culture, rang true to me having grown up watching her with my grandparents. This was an amazing story of family, immigration, loss, love, and acceptance. Recommend for 8th grade and up.

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I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.
I was initially drawn to My Father, the Panda Killer thanks to the provocative title. And this is indeed a provocative book in the ways it discusses the narrative of being an immigrant and refugee and the associated intergenerational traumas immigrant and refugee families carry. It’s not an easy read by any means, but it is a powerful one, and it illustrates how complex being from a family that deals with these types of issues can be, without any easy answers.
I really appreciated the choice to highlight both the perspectives of Jane and her father at the same age, and highlighting the contrast between the two. I was moved by Phúc’s experiences in his youth and what he had to go through to escape from Communist Vietnam and get to the United States. These experiences clearly hardened him and shaped how he went through life from that point on.
Jane, as a contrast, also has a difficult life, but more due to the complex, sometimes toxic family dynamics. Her mother is gone, and her father is always angry and often abusive. She finds herself doing her best to protect her younger brother, Paul, even if she won’t be able to much longer when she leaves for college. I loved the emphasis on the relationship between them, and how she tries to piece together what she knows about their father’s past, providing context for them both as she prepares to take her next step in life by leaving home.
This is a beautiful book, and it’s made all the more powerful with Jamie Jo Hoang’s introduction and author’s note, providing further context for her own family’s history and its parallels with the fiction. I’d recommend it to readers looking for a moving story about the legacy of the immigrant/refugee experience.

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When a book leaves me wanting more, it’s a five star read. That does not mean it was an easy read. This book is devastating. It contains an underrepresented perspective of the effects and after effects of the Vietnam War on the country and on a family, as well as the effects of racism and discrimination on a refugee family in the US. War is not pretty. Its after effects are not pretty. This tale is not pretty. It is excruciatingly honest. It is painful. It is necessary. Bring on the next book please.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to read this arc in exchange for an honest review.

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It's 1999 and Jane is the 17-year-old daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant in California. Her mother left the family several years ago leaving Jane the protector of her 7-year-old brother. Told in alternating chapters between Jane and what her father experienced in Vietnam and during his harrowing journey to the United States, this book is raw and sad. Young adult immigrant stories usually address the cultural conflict between parents and teens but don't address the truly messy stuff. Jane's dad witnessed horrible things and because of that he is a pretty horrible parent. A necessary but at times painful book that isn't afraid to tell the truth.

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I could not finish reading this book. What could have been a great tool to teach with was list on me without the translations of the Vietnamese phrases used throughout the book. Disappointed.

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This impactful YA novel takes the perspective of both a Vietnamese war refugee and his teen daughter who tells his story to her younger brother. The reader is swept into the gruesome, violent, dark, and complicated history of the Vietnam war from the POV of survivors and refugees. The book is set in the late 90s, and follows Jane, a high school senior who is helping her dad at his convenience store, helping raise her brother, and trying to assimilate into US culture as best as she can. As the book unfolds, it felt like a rollercoaster of trauma unfolding in different layers, Phuc's trauma as a young refugee, and the pain and PTSD that he took out on his family. It results in a broken family, but somehow the found family that Phuc has forged is there in such an unlikely way.

This book is hard to explain. It's not wholesome, but it has amazing empathy and it portrays the comfort of family bonds and shared trauma. It's not a period piece, but it could only take place at this time, when Jane is old enough to separate her feelings about her dad from her understanding of the war.

I can't recommend this book enough for history students, high school seniors, and any adult who only heard the US side of the Vietnam war. There will be a follow up that continues the story from her brother Paul's perspective and I am so anxious to read it!

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