Park's full name is Parkington Waddell Broughton V. He knows he has ancestors who have distinguished themselves and the name he shares with four generations of them. But his father died in Vietnam and he has never met his father's family. Though he is nearly twelve, his mother still avoids answering any questions about his father. Finally, to satisfy his curiosity, Park gets on a bus for the short ride from his home to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. There he finds his father's name. There he also resolves to get some of his questions answered.

After a painful conversation, his mother puts him on a bus for south-western Virginia where his grandfather and uncle maintain the farm on which his father grew up. His grandfather has had a stroke and is now inarticulate, able to communicate in only the most rudimentary ways. His uncle has a Vietnamese wife, and shares his home with a Vietnamese girl about Park's age whose origin and status is not clear to Park until he discovers, after a number of uncomfortable encounters, that she is his half-sister, and that because of his father's infidelity, his mother divorced him before his second, and fatal, term in Vietnam. Park, whose fantasies about his father's past and his own future have been highly romanticized, does some important growing up in the short visit that puts him in touch with a more complex idea of family, grief, forgiveness, and acceptance than he has ever before had to develop.


This novel offers a thoughtful treatment of the complexities of loss. For both Park and his mother, the palpable absence of a figure shrouded in secrecy has shadowed family life for years, and kept them both stuck, in very different ways. Park's frequent fantasies about his own heroic potential are woven around that absence and portrayed in intercalary paragraphs throughout the story. Though the numerous plot twists toward the end can seem a bit contrived in places, the story opens up multiple avenues of reflection on the role of story in the construction of one's identity, on what family means and can come to mean, on the burden of secrecy, and on ways in which people communicate their sorrows and their needs.


Penguin Books (Puffin)

Place Published

New York



Page Count