Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

NOODLE PIE by Ruth Starke

I really enjoyed Ruth Starke’s new YA novel, Noodle Pie. I admit, the title sucked me in at once with the whole visual it created, but the storytelling and the father/son relationship with the Vietnam background was just absorbing.

I was a teen during the Vietnam War, and I saw the stark images of what was going on over there at the time every night on the television news. The images of the last helicopter taking off from Saigon were incredible, one of those that will live on in memory forever.

Starke’s audience are going to lack the historical depth that I have while reading this book, but she builds in such an interesting family that younger readers without knowledge of the war are going to be drawn in by the emotional drama between those people.

Andy grew up in Australia and doesn’t really have a clue about his father’s birth country. He’d heard dozens of times about the nightmare boat ride that brought his father out of that country, so the story has lost some of its punch. However, his father starts acting weird while on the trip over to Vietnam. Dressed in new clothes, wearing a fancy gold watch and diamond ring that they could never afford, his dad starts acting like he’s wealthy. Andy knows they’re not.

I loved the mystery of Andy’s dad, and what was really at the root of the change. The reader doesn’t find out what’s going on until the end of the book, and by then the story is really ready to be told most effectively.

Starke also seems to know her way around the Vietnamese streets. The life there, quick and vibrant and sometimes desperate, springs to life off the pages. I’ve got images in my head of the scooters and cyclos that won’t leave me for a long time. And the whole cooking on the ground in front of an open-air restaurant just blows me away.

Some of the best aspects of the book are the relationships between the different family members and how Andy relates to them. I especially enjoyed the way he traveled through the city with his dad as his dad kept seeing all the changes that had taken place since he’d been gone.

Noodle Pie is an excellent novel for young readers because it explores themes that kids can understand (fear of strange places, alienation, not knowing where they fit in a big family) while at the same time offering the experience of a foreign country that’s very different than what most of them know.

One of my favorite bits of the book, though, was the KOTO Restaurant. It’s a real-life place. With the motto, Know One Teach One (which is where it gets the name), the restaurant has captured my interested. I’m going to look it up on the internet and send a donation along. I encourage readers of this review to do the same. And read the book. It’s good.


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