“The Journey of the Ancestors’ Gifts” by Linda Trinh

Linda Trinh (photo: Kalla Photography) Linda Trinh (photo: Kalla Photography)

When Anne, Liz and Jay Nguyen arrive for the first time at their Grandma Nội’s childhood home in Vietnam, the three siblings soon realize that something doesn’t quite feel right. Says eldest sibling Anne:

 

“Once I’m inside the house, I feel a heaviness on my shoulders. It’s a bit spooky.”

 

Middle sister Liz, who at 10 is two years younger than Anne, also feels something is amiss—she touches the pearl earrings she received from her Grandma Nội and an “icy-cold feeling” makes her shiver.

The siblings, on their first visit to Vietnam from their home in Winnipeg, Canada, soon find out why. After Grandma Nội left Vietnam and moved to Canada, she never returned to her childhood home before passing away. An auntie explains:

 

“Nhà quên.” Cô Ba points to Grandma’s picture. “Bà Nội không thể về nhà,” Cô Ba adds.
      “The house forgot. Now Grandma can’t come back,” Liz translates.
      “Like her spirit can’t come back now?” I ask.
      “So then no ancestors can give us luck?” Jay asks.

 

With the problem identified, the siblings are soon busy spending their vacation coming up with plans to set things right, while learning about their family history and heritage.

Accompanying Trinh’s text are Nguyen’s fun and energetic illustrations.

The Journey of the Ancestors’ Gifts, Linda Trinh, Clayton Nguyen (illus) (Annick Press, October 2023)
The Journey of the Ancestors’ Gifts, Linda Trinh, Clayton Nguyen (illus) (Annick Press, October 2023)

The Journey of the Ancestors’ Gifts by Linda Trinh and illustrated by Clayton Nguyen is the fourth book in the series The Nguyen Kids. This volume builds on the previous three titles, which are dedicated to each of the siblings’ gifts from their Grandma Nội—a jade bangle for Anne, Liz’s pearl earrings and a painted fan for Jay, the youngest of the siblings. Trinh writes from each sibling’s point of view and the alternating perspectives help to quickly establish each narrator’s personality, while also showing some of the individual challenges. With their parents having left for a tour of Halong Bay to celebrate their wedding anniversary, Jay struggles being away from his parents, but also with his own identity.

 

There is no J sound in Vietnamese, so everyone just calls me bé—baby. I hate it! Anne is Anh and Liz is Lan in Vietnamese, but who am I? Here … people look at me and expect things … for me to know the language … to act a certain way … I don’t know how to be ME here.

 

Trinh also shows the tension between the Nguyen siblings and the neighborhood children. During a game of football, Anne insists she and her siblings are Vietnamese like the neighbors, only to be told “You’re not like us. Go back to your own country!”, while another prompts laughter followed by the comment of “Overseas Vietnamese”.

These small moments add to the siblings’ discussions of identity and later, when they have solved the problem with the house, they gain a new perspective and understanding on why those comments were made.

 

trinhAccompanying Trinh’s text are Nguyen’s fun and energetic illustrations. The illustrations show the siblings’ many expressions—adventure, awe and wonder, but also pain, fear and love—while Grandma Nội’s gifts are given a sense of fantasy and magic.

With its quick pace, a touch of the paranormal and heartfelt explorations of Vietnamese history and culture, The Journey of the Ancestors’ Gifts has broad appeal, both for readers familiar with the characters and series newcomers.


Melanie Ho is the author of Journey to the West: He Hui, a Chinese Soprano in the World of Italian Opera.