“Iris Rhodes, daughter of a Vietnam Vet , made a promise with her father before he died to ensure that the haven he built for the neglected street children of Ho Chi Minh City to be completed. This children’s center was built using his own sweat and tears as a means to relieving some of the grief he felt as a result of the war. She abandons her job as a book reviewer for a local newspaper to travel to Vietnam to help fulfill her father’s dying wish.
Iris takes with her Noah Woods, a friend from her youth. Noah is a severely wounded Iraqi war veteran. He lost more than just his leg in the war. He is full of anger and resentment, but the children of Ho Chi Minh City force him to see past his own anger and work to create a better life for these children.
Iris and Noah have a hard road ahead of them. Not everyone approves of the center, which will ultimately school the young girls of Ho Chi Minh City. They are forced to pay off a local authority so they can receive protection from the local scum who benefit from the hard work of the local street children.
My heart couldn’t help but break when I read of the street children. There are three that are focused on: Mai, Minh, and Tam.
Mai and Minh live in a basket under a bridge. Minh has only one hand and earns money by playing games of Connect Four with tourists. Minh doesn’t speak, so his sister, Mai, acts as his voice. The majority of their earnings goes to a local addict who provides ”protection” from the other street dwellers. Ironically, they are severely beaten each time they are unable to provide this money.
Tam is a young girl suffering from the final stages of childhood leukemia. Her grandmother, Qui, carries her around on her back, doing the best she can to provide for Tam in her last days. Tam’s cancer could have been treatable had she seen a doctor early enough but unfortuntely she did not seek medical attention unti the cancer had spread to her bones. They both look forward to a reality in which there is no pain and in which Tam can run around and play like a “normal” child.
Readers of all ages will find a character they can connect with, and Shors writing style is light enough that readers in their teen years could easily follow it. It would be wonderful if this novel could be considered required reading for junior high or high school students. It portrays the vast history of the war with Vietnam and the results of the war on the local people. While it definitely describes the not so cheerful aftermath of war, it also details the hope and resilience of the people. Shors did an outstanding job of developing the characters. The each have some type of obstacle they are trying to overcome, whether it be a physcial disability, emotional, or both.
It is obvious that Shors did an extensive amount of research for this novel. The vivid descriptions of the city and the squalor in which the street children lived allow the reader to feel as though they are a part of the setting. I have a completely different outlook on the world after reading this. It’s easy to get dragged down by the problems our own nation is experiencing, but after reading this, I learn there are people on the other side of the world suffering more than I could ever imagine. One should not attempt to read this book without a box of tissues handy, for I was crying from the first few pages. But this should not dissuae you from reading this novel; I feel it is a book that everyone should read.
Normally, I do not overtly request readers to go out and buy a book that I’ve read and reviewed. But in this case, I beg you. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Dragon House are donated to The Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which helps children in need in Vietnam.