The Best We Could Do

Thi Bui

Book cover

Loved this book, which Elise turned me on to. It’s a graphic novel chronicle of the author’s family, following her parents’ lives in Vietnam, their escape as refugees, her childhood in the U.S., and her own experience of becoming a mother.

I felt a close kinship to Thi Bui immediately upon reading her author’s note. She talks there about her long-term interest in her family’s history, and even mentions that she put together an amateur family history book before writing this one. I’m the historian of my own family, and know exactly the feelings she was talking about–even if her own family’s recent history is obviously more dramatic than mine.

Bui’s art in the book was really appealing to me. It has a very personal character to it. The main characters in the book are her parents and their several children. All are drawn in a fairly realist style and are easily distinguished by their specific facial features (as opposed to a more comic-y style where characters would be more identified by stylized visual signifiers). There’s an immediate sense that these are faces she’s known all her life.

The pacing and narrative approach are also both strong. Bui does some mild jumping back and forth between time periods, but just enough to indicate connections, without being jarring or overly stylized. I also think she successfully walks a fine line where she’s obviously writing with love for her family and pride for the difficulties they’ve overcome, but also recognizes the complexities and flaws of each character without being overly dramatic about it.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars