cover image When Heaven Fell

When Heaven Fell

Carolyn Marsden, . . Candlewick, $15.99 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-3175-8

Marsden (The Gold-Threaded Dress ) once again mingles two cultures, but less successfully here than in her previous books. The story unfolds primarily through the third-person perspective of nine-year-old Binh, who sells fruit and soda from a cart in her Vietnamese village. In the second chapter, she learns that her maternal grandmother, Ba Ngoai, has another daughter, Thao, fathered by an American soldier. To save Thao's life after the Communists won the Vietnam War, Ba Ngoai sent her to America 30 years earlier, when the child was five. Now Thao is coming to visit, and Binh and her family imagine all the presents this presumably rich American will bring. But Thao brings only several small gifts, such as a pair of bookends—put to use as doorstops since the family owns no books. While in her previous books Marsden integrated exotic cultural details smoothly into the text, here the narrative turns jarringly expository at times ("The highway was lined with the red and yellow satin banners of the Communist government. Some banners had a yellow star, others a hammer and sickle"). Still, Binh witnesses some poignant scenes, such as when Thao confides that she initially had a difficult time in the U.S., "I wasn't Vietnamese anymore... And I didn't feel American either." The characters—save Binh—may remain curiously at a distance, but Marsden brings her tale to a satisfying close. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)