Nakri Sokha lives a nice, ordinary life in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, with her family. She lives with her father, a teacher, her mother, a homemaker, and her three siblings, Boran, Teeda and Yaan. She and her sister, Teeda, are part of a group that practices the art of Cambodian classical dance in a temple near the Mekong River, until her life changes in an instant.
When the Khmer Rouge take over the city of Phnom Penh, her family must take only what they can carry and travel to a village where their extended family lives. Just as the Sokha family begins to adjust to this new life away from their home, Hoon Sokha, Nakri's father, is taken from them. And before they can think things might get worse, the Angkar takes Boran, Teeda and Nakri to a worker camp. After four long years, the family is reunited and crosses the border of Cambodia into Thailand. They meet relief workers there who help them immigrate to America. Now, after all they have been through, they must adjust to American life and try to create a new home in this new land.
- In the worker camp, Teeda, Boran, and Nakri were sure to look out for one another and take care of each other. In what ways did Nakri and Teeda look out for each other? In what ways did Boran look out for his sisters? What consequences came from their actions?
- Teeda loves to dance. How did this love of dance help her get through being at a worker camp? How did it help Nakri and her mother later to deal with her death?
- Nakri's father is a teacher. Why did he lie to the Angkar when they asked what he did for a living? Why did he hide his glasses in the dirt before they took him away?
- Nakri's grandmother was always working at her loom. In what ways did the items she made help the girls while they were in the worker camp? How did the change in colors that she used affect the family?
- When the family moves to America, Boran and Nakri have a more difficult time adjusting than Yaan. Why do you think that is? In what ways do Boran and Nakri try to adjust to American life?
Settings and Theme
- In the Author's Note at the end of the book, Minfong Ho asks "When changing oneself becomes a means of survival, why does it often feel like an act of betrayal?". In what ways have each of the characters, Nakri, Boran, Teeda, Ma and Pa changed themselves in the story to survive? In what ways have them remained the same when, perhaps, they should have changed?
- In the book, Nakri's brother, Boran, cries after seeing food that was thrown in the garbage. Why do you think he is crying? In what other ways do you see that American and Cambodian customs differ? In what ways are they similar?
- The Sokha family was strongly tied to their beliefs. How did this affect what happened to them in Cambodia? How did these beliefs affect their lives in America?
- Music plays a large part in this book. Describe the different ways that music helped the Sokha family while they were in Cambodia and then in America.