Butterfly Yellow

Book review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
Butterfly Yellow Book Poster Image
Moving post-Vietnam War story of courage and perseverance.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Teens will learn about the Vietnam War, Operation Babylift, and some of the awful things that people endured to escape. They'll also learn Vietnamese words, fruits, and songs plus how to diagram sentences in English. 

Positive Messages

Family, friendship, communication, courage, and perseverance are important themes. When you're in danger, look for kind people to help you.

Positive Role Models

Hằng will do whatever she needs to survive and find her brother. She never gave up no matter how many horrible things she had to endure to make it to America. LeeRoy is kind, compassionate, and becomes a great friend to Hằng. He helps with her English pronunciation and is able to calm her down whenever she starts to think about what happened on her journey to America.  


Hằng has haunting memories of the Vietnam War and her traumatic escape to America. Her vivid flashbacks include her mom's death, hiding from pirates, and the painful procedure to remove worms from her body. A girl is sexually assaulted by pirates. Another character is injured after he's bucked off a horse. 


Some light flirting. LeeRoy sometimes gets erections around pretty girls.


Strong language includes variations of "hell," "s--t," "dumbass," "damn," "shut up," and "jackass."


Mentions of Clint Eastwood movies, especially The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mentions of beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Butterfly Yellow, by Newbery Honor author Thanhha Lai' (Inside Out and Back AgainListen, Slowlyis a moving historical novel about 18-year-old Hằng, who's searching for her little brother in America six years after the end of the Vietnam War. It's 1981 and Hằng has haunting memories of the war and her traumatic escape to America. Her vivid flashbacks include her mom's death, hiding from pirates, and the painful procedure to remove worms from her body. Pirates sexually assault a girl. Another character is injured after he's bucked off a horse. There's some light flirting, and a character sometimes gets erections around pretty girls. Strong language includes variations of "hell," "s--t," "dumbass," "damn," "shut up," and "jackass." Teens will learn Vietnamese words, fruits, and songs, as well as how to diagram sentences in English.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byhannah1991 July 25, 2020
This is a "moving novel" about 18-year-old Hang, who is "searching for her little brother in America six years after the end of the Vietnam War.... Continue reading

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What's the story?

In BUTTERFLY YELLOW, Hằng's younger brother, Linh, was taken to America at age 5, in the final days of the Vietnam War, as part of Operation Babylift. Six years later, Hằng, 18, has finally made it to America after enduring an arduous journey filled with many heartbreaking moments, and she's on a mission to find her now 11-year-old brother. Along the way, she meets an aspiring cowboy named LeeRoy, who reluctantly takes her to the small Texas town where Linh has been living. Hằng is thrilled to reunite with her brother, but she wasn't prepared for Linh --who now goes by David -- to have no recollection of their family. Can Hằng find a way to reconnect with her brother and help him remember details about their life in Vietnam?

Is it any good?

Thanhha La's moving and lyrical historical novel -- her first for young adult readers -- powerfully explores family, friendship, hope, and survival. Hằng and LeeRoy might seem like an unlikely pair, but they're both outsiders in West Texas and form a sweet bond that's filled with many comical moments. Some readers might find it challenging to decipher Hằng's English, but LeeRoy is quick to understand her Vietnamese pronunciations and becomes the connecting bridge between Hằng and Linh/David. As Butterfly Yellow progresses, teens will be inspired by Hằng's fierce love, strength, and determination and see that this is a story of courage, communication, and perseverance.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the heavy themes of Butterfly Yellow. How do these issues affect the characters? Is it important for teens to read Hằng's story? Why or why not? How does the book deal with violence

  • What kinds of details show that Butterfly Yellow is taking place in a different time from our own? What do you like about reading historical fiction?

  • How do the characters demonstrate communicationcourage, and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Asian and Asian-American stories and historical novels

Themes & Topics

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