Behind the Book: Thanhhà Lại, author of BUTTERFLY YELLOW

BUTTERFLY YELLOW by Thanhhà Lại - On Shelves Now!

Dear Reader,

At a Buddhist temple in San Diego, there is a memorial room filled with tiny photographs of those who have passed. Mostly, the portraits show people with gray hair who I hope lived full lives. One section of the wall, however, is reserved for black-and-white images. All are in their teens, twenties,
thirties, forties. Young. The hairstyles date back to the late seventies, early eighties. It is not explained, but visitors know they are looking at those who lost their lives at sea in hopeful attempts to become refugees. Every Vietnamese knows of at least one such person.

On one visit, I kept staring at a particular girl. Her hair was short and jagged, her eyes intense, her lips tight. I researched what might have caused her to join the thousands of Vietnamese who escaped post-war Việt Nam. Then I imagined the details of what she witnessed at sea.

Years later, her face continued to visit me. By now I wanted to focus on what happened to her upon landing in a safe place. How does she return to herself?

I put a name to a face and she became Hằng. I placed her in a land she could not have imagined, the opposite of the lush green she loved yet needed to flee. Enter the Panhandle in Texas. I spent my adolescence in Texas, so I know of its dry flat landscape to the west.

Then I needed a buddy for Hằng. Enter LeeRoy. He was a boy I might have gone to high school with in Fort Worth. A cowboy wannabe, dreaming of rodeo glory while trudging through the halls with horse dung on his boots. His innate kindness would soothe Hằng’s fiery vulnerabilities. Together, in spite of themselves, they would trade humor and solace.

Sometimes true connection sprouts between two most unlikely people. And sometimes healing is spurred in a place that reminds you of nothing you have known. Hằng begins to thaw as she gets to know LeeRoy and West Texas. I hope you enjoy getting to know all three.

To life’s lovely surprises,
Thanhhà Lại

Praise for Butterfly Yellow

★ "Every sentence is infused with warmth, and Lại shows readers that countless moments of grace exist even in the darkest times. Masterfully conjures grace, beauty, and humor out of the tragic wake of the Vietnam War."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★ "Lại's imagery awakens the senses. Most powerful is the deep throb of regret and the thinnest wisps of hopefulness that Lại conveys throughout. They touch the soul."
Booklist (starred review)

★ “Remarkable. Told with ample grace, Lại’s finely drawn narrative and resilient characters offer a memorable, deeply felt view of the Vietnam War’s impact.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

★ “Lại writes with charm and spark, and she is especially original in her conveyance of Hằng’s limited English. Hằng remains resilient and purposeful, characteristics that make her compelling and even heroic. Ultimately, this is a bittersweet yet hopeful story of letting go and finding new ways to come together.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

About the Author

Thanhhà Lại is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Inside Out & Back Again, her debut novel in verse, which won both a National Book Award and a Newbery Honor, and the acclaimed Listen, Slowly, which was named to numerous best book of the year lists. She was born in Việt Nam and now lives in New York with her family. To learn more about Thanhhà, visit

About the Book

Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Erika L. Sanchez, this gorgeously written and deeply moving own voices novel is the YA debut from the award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again.

In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.

Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.

Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.