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The Coconut Children

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Fall in love twice, just to make sure. Sonny and Vince have always known each other. It took two years of juvie, a crazy mother and a porn stash for them to meet again. Sonny is a sixteen-year-old girl who watches the world from her bedroom window and has a habit of falling hopelessly in love with just about anyone. Vince is a sixteen-year-old boy who became a legend after h Fall in love twice, just to make sure. Sonny and Vince have always known each other. It took two years of juvie, a crazy mother and a porn stash for them to meet again. Sonny is a sixteen-year-old girl who watches the world from her bedroom window and has a habit of falling hopelessly in love with just about anyone. Vince is a sixteen-year-old boy who became a legend after he was taken away two years ago. Now, Vince is back. In the vertigo of 1990's Cabramatta, in households which harbour histories and parents who are difficult to love, they stumble upon each other once more.


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Fall in love twice, just to make sure. Sonny and Vince have always known each other. It took two years of juvie, a crazy mother and a porn stash for them to meet again. Sonny is a sixteen-year-old girl who watches the world from her bedroom window and has a habit of falling hopelessly in love with just about anyone. Vince is a sixteen-year-old boy who became a legend after h Fall in love twice, just to make sure. Sonny and Vince have always known each other. It took two years of juvie, a crazy mother and a porn stash for them to meet again. Sonny is a sixteen-year-old girl who watches the world from her bedroom window and has a habit of falling hopelessly in love with just about anyone. Vince is a sixteen-year-old boy who became a legend after he was taken away two years ago. Now, Vince is back. In the vertigo of 1990's Cabramatta, in households which harbour histories and parents who are difficult to love, they stumble upon each other once more.

30 review for The Coconut Children

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    This a sweet and gritty love story set in late 90s Cabramatta (I'm guessing the time-frame actually), among the children of Vietnamese refugees. Pham is astonishingly young and disgustingly talented and weaves a pretty complex web with assurance. The writing was sometimes a bit overblown for me and the narrative didn't always feel entirely realistic, but it's vivid and moving and a welcome new voice in Australian literature. This a sweet and gritty love story set in late 90s Cabramatta (I'm guessing the time-frame actually), among the children of Vietnamese refugees. Pham is astonishingly young and disgustingly talented and weaves a pretty complex web with assurance. The writing was sometimes a bit overblown for me and the narrative didn't always feel entirely realistic, but it's vivid and moving and a welcome new voice in Australian literature.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Giselle A Nguyen

    “The coconut children on the trees need to drop into the water. That way the ocean can carry them to another island, where they can grow.” Cabramatta, 1998. Vincent Tran has returned after two years in juvie, and his childhood friend Sonny Vuong looks on from a distance at this boy she once knew so intimately, now an intriguing stranger. Her world is books and daydreams; his is drugs and violence. They are unexpectedly drawn back together by a series of strange events – a drunk grandma, a secret “The coconut children on the trees need to drop into the water. That way the ocean can carry them to another island, where they can grow.” Cabramatta, 1998. Vincent Tran has returned after two years in juvie, and his childhood friend Sonny Vuong looks on from a distance at this boy she once knew so intimately, now an intriguing stranger. Her world is books and daydreams; his is drugs and violence. They are unexpectedly drawn back together by a series of strange events – a drunk grandma, a secret porn stash – and find that, at age sixteen, the future is full of possibilities that stretch beyond the confines of their poverty-stricken pocket of western Sydney. This gentle yet raw debut novel made my heart ache. The tiny details about these Vietnamese-Australian lives – fruit eaten with chili salt, green tiger balm as a cure-all for any injury – are sketched with such tenderness. Vince and Sonny’s relationship unfurls so delicately, capturing the longing and hesitation, urgent yet slow, of first love – Pham imbues her characters with the intoxicating uncertainty typical of the adolescence she herself is only just leaving. Tougher topics are tackled in this novel, too, from intergenerational trauma to domestic violence. Pham expertly captures how class tension plays out in the streets and behind closed doors. She’s a writer of formidable skill – her words flow like poetry, building a vivid world that pulses with difficult, honest beauty. With Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Joey Bui’s Lucky Ticket, we’ve been fortunate lately to hear from incredibly talented Vietnamese diaspora writers. The Coconut Children joins this list as a wise and moving depiction of the infinite possibility that exists most desperately in the hearts of teenagers searching for themselves in a world that demands to define them.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bel Rowntree

    I ADORED this book. I adored the characters, the storyline, the setting, the perfect portrayal of teen angst and friendship, I adored the ending, ugh, it was just all so, so good. The trauma and the violence is so masterfully etched in between the lines, some parts almost unbearable to read especially when you consider the true stories they surely have stemmed from. It was poetic and dramatic and inspiring, a dance between past/present, the living/the dead and I can not stop thinking about it.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lamya

    i feel rly bad bc i rly wanted to like this book & rly wanted to finish this but ... it is not a great depiction of 90s Cabra at all. lot of generic descriptions abt homeless people, junkies, needles, dilapidated streets and houses, almost no specificity. don’t think she ever gave a restaurant or park or school a name. the depiction is also kind of sensationalist ie a park is simply described as “needle infested” ??? don’t think there’s any real recognition that Cabra was crazy but it would also i feel rly bad bc i rly wanted to like this book & rly wanted to finish this but ... it is not a great depiction of 90s Cabra at all. lot of generic descriptions abt homeless people, junkies, needles, dilapidated streets and houses, almost no specificity. don’t think she ever gave a restaurant or park or school a name. the depiction is also kind of sensationalist ie a park is simply described as “needle infested” ??? don’t think there’s any real recognition that Cabra was crazy but it would also be a community and safe haven since Viet ppl were getting bashed by white people at the time and the rest of Australia would’ve been even scarier. i think she needed to do a lot more research because the place is meant to be so central to this story but it just seems like it could be any scary neighbourhood w a high Asian population

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Very disappointed by this. Very. I'm keen to see more diversity in publishing, but this book needed much better editing than it's had. As others have said here, it's overwritten: From the chapter titled 'Caught in Guerilla Warfare on the Way to the Loo: " Monday morning. Michelle, still drowsy and dreamlike from the night before, flaunted her hangover like a heavy, jewel-encrusted crown. Michelle with her fluttery, Herbal Essences hair, strands of midnight marigold picked up and kissed by the wind Very disappointed by this. Very. I'm keen to see more diversity in publishing, but this book needed much better editing than it's had. As others have said here, it's overwritten: From the chapter titled 'Caught in Guerilla Warfare on the Way to the Loo: " Monday morning. Michelle, still drowsy and dreamlike from the night before, flaunted her hangover like a heavy, jewel-encrusted crown. Michelle with her fluttery, Herbal Essences hair, strands of midnight marigold picked up and kissed by the wind. Michelle with her long, golden legs; the summer day, an oven for the buttery shortbreads she walked on. " (p.51) Sometimes, despite re-readings, I could not fathom what was meant by the words on the page: "He wanted to claim water from the hollow between her slender neck and collarbones. Was she safe to drink from? If he touched her, would she slip right through his fingers? Now was not the time for dipping toes, but for skinny dipping in the dark. Michelle put her palms on his neck and pulled him into the deep end. She gave his lips someone to forget. His fantasies something to dream about. (p.49) What does that mean, to give his 'lips someone to forget'? And this water that he wants to claim? They are in a kitchen (where "it looked as though she were speaking to the lonely family-sized bottle of ketchup in the fridge.") She hasn't been out in the rain, or in a swimming pool, or had a bath. Is it perspiration? Is it a metaphor for being out of their depth? Who knows... I give up. (At page 51). I give up because the adolescent fantasies of a teenage girl are never very interesting anyway (except maybe to other adolescents) and the lionising of Vince who's just out of juvenile detention is depressing. The book appears to do the Vietnamese community no favours by representing it as dysfunctional and the Vietnamese school students as disruptive and destructive, not to mention hostile to Australia, as depicted in the burning of the flag incident. I taught for five years in a suburb of Melbourne not long before the period this novel is set (in 1998), and I have nothing but admiration for the Asian communities who — traumatised by the horrors of the Cambodian genocide and the Vietnam War and the boat journey — were nevertheless clear about the future of their children being dependent on education, and their kids now are an absolute credit to their parents' resilience, hard work and habit of putting their children first. If blurber Benjamin Law is right about this being 'the future of Australian writing' and an awe-inspiring example of what Gen Z can deliver, then I'm going to be much more careful about what I spend my $32.99 on next time. PS I don't rate books I don't finish. PPS If this author is as young as others here have indicated, the publisher has done her no favours IMO. If she has talent, she deserves to be nurtured into achieving her potential, not published prematurely.

  6. 5 out of 5

    The Anti-Social Influencer

    Call me Dorothy because I’ve been blown away. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Gary. ‘Coconut Children’ is an incredible debut from Vivian Pham, who wrote it when she was only sixteen. The writing is electric: simultaneously caustic and beautiful. There were sentences that absolutely floored me. There were sentences that made me smile and ache with how familiar they felt. A story of two neighbours: Sonny, awkward, strange, with a demanding mother and no romantic experience, and Vince, a secret poet Call me Dorothy because I’ve been blown away. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Gary. ‘Coconut Children’ is an incredible debut from Vivian Pham, who wrote it when she was only sixteen. The writing is electric: simultaneously caustic and beautiful. There were sentences that absolutely floored me. There were sentences that made me smile and ache with how familiar they felt. A story of two neighbours: Sonny, awkward, strange, with a demanding mother and no romantic experience, and Vince, a secret poet returned from juvie estranged from his violent father and frightened mother but who finds a way to do-exist with them for the sake of his baby sister, Emma. The storyline will feel familiar to fans of Melina Marchetta, which is some of the highest praise I can give to a teenage story. I cannot wait to see what’s next from Vivian Pham. 4 out of 5 Happy Meal toys that Vince threatened a McDonalds employee to get for Sonny. 🍟🍟 🍟 🍟 Thank you, as always, to Penguin Books for the review copy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    K.

    Trigger warnings: imprisonment, domestic violence, drug addiction, drug dealing, intergenerational trauma, rape (in the past), sexual assault (in the past), violence, assault, vomit, verbally abusive parent, animal abuse. 4.5 stars. I've been intrigued by this book ever since it was revealed that the author wrote it at the age of 16 and that there was a bidding war over it. Also since I saw the cover, which is GORGEOUS. I definitely didn't expect this to punch me in the feelings as hard as it di Trigger warnings: imprisonment, domestic violence, drug addiction, drug dealing, intergenerational trauma, rape (in the past), sexual assault (in the past), violence, assault, vomit, verbally abusive parent, animal abuse. 4.5 stars. I've been intrigued by this book ever since it was revealed that the author wrote it at the age of 16 and that there was a bidding war over it. Also since I saw the cover, which is GORGEOUS. I definitely didn't expect this to punch me in the feelings as hard as it did. Both of the audiobook narrators did an incredible job, and Pham's writing is stunning. She really captured the feel of Australian suburbia in the late 90s, of high school in the late 90s (although there were occasional bits of more modern slang that crept in), and of the internet being a new phenomenon. It was definitely a much darker book than I anticipated, but it was an absolutely incredible book and I loved every second of it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Permanently 23

    Having grown up in the part of Sydney when this book is set, I was super keen to read it. I absolutely loved the diversity factor. Australian books with this flavour (especially set in Western Sydney) are hard to find - publishers take note... While it’s overwritten in parts (some language needed tightening and perhaps reining in all the descriptions) it’s quite beautiful in parts. I enjoyed the way Sonny and Vince danced around each other and had a shared history - this book is, in many ways, ab Having grown up in the part of Sydney when this book is set, I was super keen to read it. I absolutely loved the diversity factor. Australian books with this flavour (especially set in Western Sydney) are hard to find - publishers take note... While it’s overwritten in parts (some language needed tightening and perhaps reining in all the descriptions) it’s quite beautiful in parts. I enjoyed the way Sonny and Vince danced around each other and had a shared history - this book is, in many ways, about intergenerational trauma. As a debut novel, written by a teenager? Wow.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    Vivian Pham started writing her debut novel at 16 and here it is being published next week; she’s 19 now. Pham is a gifted storyteller and writer with a particular talent for dialogue, metaphor and similie. Her style is incredibly evocative and layered. She also uses humour incredibly well. There were some issues with pacing and plot but overall this is a hugely impressive debut from a fresh and vibrant new voice.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    My first #APIHeritageMonth read is by a Vietnamese-Australian author - THE COCONUT CHILDREN by Vivian Pham. The first draft of this impressive debut was completed when Pham was only 17, and published at 19! It came out the day we left Australia in March so I couldn’t snap up a print copy, but jumped for joy when I saw my Aussie library app offered the audiobook. . “The Coconut Children follows Sonny and Vince, two Vietnamese Australian teenagers living in 1990s Cabramatta. Vince has just returned My first #APIHeritageMonth read is by a Vietnamese-Australian author - THE COCONUT CHILDREN by Vivian Pham. The first draft of this impressive debut was completed when Pham was only 17, and published at 19! It came out the day we left Australia in March so I couldn’t snap up a print copy, but jumped for joy when I saw my Aussie library app offered the audiobook. . “The Coconut Children follows Sonny and Vince, two Vietnamese Australian teenagers living in 1990s Cabramatta. Vince has just returned from a two-year stint in juvenile detention and Sonny, his former neighbour whose refugee father escaped Vietnam by boat, watches on with interest as he tries to step back into his life. Set against a backdrop of gang violence, drugs, and socioeconomic struggle, it’s a complex story of love, loyalty, intergenerational trauma, and family.” - Elizabeth Flux, The Guardian. . At its heart, this coming-of-age love story is rich in character complexity and Pham has written characters that have you immediately invested in them. The dialogue in this was perfection - from a scene with raucous banter over a Happy Meal toy (@antisocial.influencer your comment in your review about this made me 😂!) to moments of incredible emotional depth shouldering intergenerational trauma and domestic abuse, Sonny and Vince take you through a rollercoaster of emotions. I love how well the conversations flowed between Sonny and her school friends, again so many well written dialogue-driven scenes - those that skirted around sexuality reminded me of the pearl-clutching Dolly Doctor-esque questions that many Aussie teens will be familiar with! . This book was an absolute delight to read, and I’d point you to a review on @goodreads by “Giselle A” particularly (cannot find on bookstagram, sorry!) which points out some of the finer nuances in the book that shine, particularly the tenderness written in the finer details of these Vietnamese-Australian lives. Highly recommend, and I just hope this one finds its way to being published outside of Australia so more readers can enjoy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    In brief ★★★★½ I have been meaning to read The Coconut Children for months, so was thrilled when @nina.reads.books on instagram agreed to a buddy read. In her debut, Pham gives a clear insight into the lives of Sonny and Vince growing up rough in Cabramatta in 1990s Sydney. The writing has warmth, sophistication and humour, while also ringing deeply true. Readers should note triggers for child sexual abuse, gang rape, domestic violence, migration by boat, drug use and death by overdose. Sonny is d In brief ★★★★½ I have been meaning to read The Coconut Children for months, so was thrilled when @nina.reads.books on instagram agreed to a buddy read. In her debut, Pham gives a clear insight into the lives of Sonny and Vince growing up rough in Cabramatta in 1990s Sydney. The writing has warmth, sophistication and humour, while also ringing deeply true. Readers should note triggers for child sexual abuse, gang rape, domestic violence, migration by boat, drug use and death by overdose. Sonny is desperate for a boyfriend - so much so that she's fantasising about her balding middle-aged chemistry teacher. But when her childhood best friend Vince is released from juvie, there's no way he'd look at her, not with drop dead gorgeous girls like Michelle around. While Sonny does her best to protect her frail younger brother from their mother's mood swings, Vince makes a surprising discovery at home that gets him thinking about the future, and has him of a mind to rekindle his friendship with Sonny. I loved this novel. I loved the deeply compassionate portrayal of children doing their best to overcome the hardships of their lives, to wrestle with the ghosts their migrant parents brought with them. I loved the honest depictions of friendship and the way it can shape and uplift you. I loved the fact that this novel is an ode to Cabramatta and the power and vulnerability of youth. And I loved the writing, which was insightful without being pretentious, funny without being mocking and warm without being sentimental. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what Pham does next - Australian literature needs more fresh voices like hers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laura de Vet

    I finished this book today. Best book I have read in a LONG TIME. The author was sixteen when she wrote it. This still blows my mind. It will no doubt become a core high-school read alongside ‘Looking for Alibrandi’. I’ve no doubt it will also become an iconic Aussie film in years to come. It’s the type of book you could read until sunrise if you knew you didn’t have to get up in the morning to look after your kids. Read it, is all I really have to say.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kylie Porter

    Beautifully written. The story content is at times confronting and violent, but the writing is true peotry throughout. For me this book was an eye opening account of the trauma and struggles immigrants go through to find their way to our shores. The trauma of past generations being lived out through their children and their children, too. Does your history shape you? I would say yes! after reading this

  14. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I really wanted to like this book - the first generation Australian experience! Kids of Asian immigrants! Cabramatta! - but its rambling writing style left me lost and bewildered most of the time. Props to Pham for writing as a 16yo but I felt this was lacking in terms of editorial tightness and lucidity.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Read Me Another Story

    Sonny is a 15 year old daughter of immigrant parents in the south-western Sydney of Cabramatta and this is set in the late 90’s. Sonny has a habit of falling in love with anyone and her attentions land on Vince. Vince has returned from a recent bout at juvie and although he has known Sonny forever they suddenly get to know each other a lot better. Summary 📖 Full disclosure that I was a schoolgirl in western Sydney in the mid-late 90s so this plot felt really relatable to me based on my own experien Sonny is a 15 year old daughter of immigrant parents in the south-western Sydney of Cabramatta and this is set in the late 90’s. Sonny has a habit of falling in love with anyone and her attentions land on Vince. Vince has returned from a recent bout at juvie and although he has known Sonny forever they suddenly get to know each other a lot better. Summary 📖 Full disclosure that I was a schoolgirl in western Sydney in the mid-late 90s so this plot felt really relatable to me based on my own experience. My own school life had lots of exploration of race, culture and identity and I found this part of the book extremely relatable. I understand that the author wrote this when she was very young and I found that extremely impressive but I did think it took a while for the scene of the book to be set. Suggestion 📖 I enjoyed this book but I feel like it is one that might only be of interest if you have had a similar type of experience or upbringing. 📖

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kat Schrav

    3.5. I really wanted to love this book. The story follows the intergenerational trauma that has filtered through the families of teen neighbours, Sony and Vince. Separately and together they navigate being 16 in Cabramatta, Western Sydney, as their Vietnamese-Australian heritage seems to weigh down on them yet tie them together. I listened to this via Audible and found it hard to follow the storyline in places but Pham’s narrative made me compelled to continue. I would definitely recommend readi 3.5. I really wanted to love this book. The story follows the intergenerational trauma that has filtered through the families of teen neighbours, Sony and Vince. Separately and together they navigate being 16 in Cabramatta, Western Sydney, as their Vietnamese-Australian heritage seems to weigh down on them yet tie them together. I listened to this via Audible and found it hard to follow the storyline in places but Pham’s narrative made me compelled to continue. I would definitely recommend reading over listening.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andreea

    I am absolutely floored and so impressed that Vivian Pham was only 16 when she started writing The Coconut Children. This novel is truly beautiful. The language is so poetic and lyrical, with a unique rhythm. There's almost something magical about the words, reminiscent of Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe. Teenage angst is portrayed so realistically, but with an added layer of the weight of familial and cultural history. At first glance, Sonny and Vince are characters you might have read bef I am absolutely floored and so impressed that Vivian Pham was only 16 when she started writing The Coconut Children. This novel is truly beautiful. The language is so poetic and lyrical, with a unique rhythm. There's almost something magical about the words, reminiscent of Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe. Teenage angst is portrayed so realistically, but with an added layer of the weight of familial and cultural history. At first glance, Sonny and Vince are characters you might have read before but the further along you read you realise how special, vivid and expressive their voices are. The story is intense and difficult at times but the bond between the two characters creates a refuge from their pain. I can't remember the last time I read such a tender, deep and gentle portrayal of young love. Vivian Pham is a confident, self-assured writer and I can't wait to read what she writes next!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carmel

    Was this truly written by a 16 year old??? Quite impressive for someone so young - the ability to put such insights onto a page seems to suggest a teenager beyond her years and I feel that this author is going to go far. This is a sweet and angst ridden love story of two 16yo teenage neighbours set in the gritty Cabramatta region of Sydney. Sonny is a good studious girl and Vince has just spent 2 years in juvenile detention. After a chance meeting involving porn magazines, these two next door ne Was this truly written by a 16 year old??? Quite impressive for someone so young - the ability to put such insights onto a page seems to suggest a teenager beyond her years and I feel that this author is going to go far. This is a sweet and angst ridden love story of two 16yo teenage neighbours set in the gritty Cabramatta region of Sydney. Sonny is a good studious girl and Vince has just spent 2 years in juvenile detention. After a chance meeting involving porn magazines, these two next door neighbours reconnect and a teenage love story ensues. The first half of the book was a bit slow and it took time to get to know the characters but the second half was great. The stories of their parents were written so well - memories of the Vietnam war and becoming refugees and arriving in Australia were haunting and the impact of all that on their children so sad. Some sentences made me laugh out loud and some shook me up. A great read once you got into it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    This is a stunning debut and I can't wait to read whatever Vivian Pham writes next. This is a stunning debut and I can't wait to read whatever Vivian Pham writes next.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sara Cole

    I wanted to love this! But unfortunately I didn’t. This story took so long for me to read, too long for a 280 page novel. This story just did not grab me, it felt like a bit of a chore to read. I do love the idea of this story. I believe it is is vital for Australians to read stories that celebrate our rich and diverse culture. Australia, as a young country, is home to people from all over the world and The Coconut Children is a story about adolescent Vietnamese Australians living in Cabramatta, I wanted to love this! But unfortunately I didn’t. This story took so long for me to read, too long for a 280 page novel. This story just did not grab me, it felt like a bit of a chore to read. I do love the idea of this story. I believe it is is vital for Australians to read stories that celebrate our rich and diverse culture. Australia, as a young country, is home to people from all over the world and The Coconut Children is a story about adolescent Vietnamese Australians living in Cabramatta, Sydney in 1998. This is a story about young, teenage love, the intensity and drama of it all. All people need to survive adolescence to enter adulthood and it’s a tumultuous time for many. This story captures this well with the stories of Vince and Sonny. Vince has just been released from juvenile detention, he’s independent, unafraid and familiar with violence and intimidation. Sonny is a good girl, respectful to her parents, she cares for for brother, loves her troubled Grandmother, she gets her school work done on time and finds freedom only in jumping on her backyard trampoline. Sonny and Vince grew up next door to each other and this story is about whether they can rekindle their childhood friendship and possibly turn it into something more. The idea of the story is rock solid, on point, gritty and intriguing. After having been a teenager in the 1990s I wanted to delve back into my own memories as this story told itself. But unfortunately the plot was not strong. The story didn’t build to any climax and the ending was almost non existent. It’s like the author had just had enough so she stopped writing. Like me with this review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This gritty imagining of young love, and the complexities that make up each of the characters is shared beautifully through the author's captivating storytelling. I loved the way the story was told predominantly from the views of each of the main characters, Vince and Sonny, but we, the reader, were also given snippets of information from minor character perspectives to be able to piece together the story a bit better, including what led characters to become the version of themselves that appear This gritty imagining of young love, and the complexities that make up each of the characters is shared beautifully through the author's captivating storytelling. I loved the way the story was told predominantly from the views of each of the main characters, Vince and Sonny, but we, the reader, were also given snippets of information from minor character perspectives to be able to piece together the story a bit better, including what led characters to become the version of themselves that appear in the story.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emma Harbridge

    A friend suggested this book to me, advertising it with the line, “You can tell how much you mean to someone by the amount of ginger they make you eat when you’re sick.” This book really got me, can I tell you. Vivian Pham is so honest in her writing, especially when exploring themes of care in POC families, behaviourism interwoven into educational systems, and simply the chaotic and heart wrenching experience of growing up in the Western suburbs. It’s a wonderful feeling reading something that A friend suggested this book to me, advertising it with the line, “You can tell how much you mean to someone by the amount of ginger they make you eat when you’re sick.” This book really got me, can I tell you. Vivian Pham is so honest in her writing, especially when exploring themes of care in POC families, behaviourism interwoven into educational systems, and simply the chaotic and heart wrenching experience of growing up in the Western suburbs. It’s a wonderful feeling reading something that is grounded in a place where I grew up in and is filled with characters that are so painstakingly relatable to how I also was as a desperately insecure teen. Pham’s descriptions of the ruggedness of Cabramatta as being these characters’ true feeling of home rings so true; the simultaneous feeling of wanting to escape it was also something that pulled at my heart strings so damn hard. This book is so dense with such real depictions of conflicting feelings in relation to parental love, senses of belonging and sexual identity, I really appreciated how she continuously explored these themes in such a beautifully nuanced way. Pham’s awareness of the variance of class structures in the West is so so beyond her years, I wish I was as wise and self-aware as her when I was 16! Pham is such an important voice right now, she has written a story that demands attention even though so many people have previously not cared to elevate these narratives in a mainstream audience. While reading this I couldn’t help but so longingly wish to have been able to read this when I was Sonny’s age. ***trigger warning*** This book does contain content about sexual assault, drug abuse, physical violence and traumas of seeking asylum

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cam Ly

    I am surprised the publishers had a bidding war over this novel. It says a lot about the lack of diversity in the publishing world - succumbing to hype and staffed with monoculture types who have only a cursory knowledge of their subject matter. Cabra in the 90s was filled with either cruel, numbed by heroin, black hearted characters or those struggling against the deep waters of poverty, barely able to get their heads up for air. There were no angels. Only devils and the damned. Ms Pham has cre I am surprised the publishers had a bidding war over this novel. It says a lot about the lack of diversity in the publishing world - succumbing to hype and staffed with monoculture types who have only a cursory knowledge of their subject matter. Cabra in the 90s was filled with either cruel, numbed by heroin, black hearted characters or those struggling against the deep waters of poverty, barely able to get their heads up for air. There were no angels. Only devils and the damned. Ms Pham has created a world from her imagining. What a wonderful effort but it falls short of capturing a time and place in which she had never even briefly stepped foot in because she was not yet born. If you want to know what Cabra was like in the 90s or want to understand the Vietnamese immigrant story, watch The Finished People, Little Fish or read The Happiest Refugee. Again, I applaud her attempt (overlooking her overwrought sentences) and appreciate this is a work of fiction (which remains just that).

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Those who follow my reviews know that I am a fan of a clever turn of phrase, and oh my gosh, Vivian Pham can do a clever turn of phrase. So for example, "Talking to her was like talking to a wall that could throw bricks at you." or the wonderful description of a crush: "In her mind, their affair was so artfully conspired that they had managed to keep it a secret even from reality." or the chilling "Sometimes he didn’t come home at all, not for days, but even this did not give Vince any peace. So Those who follow my reviews know that I am a fan of a clever turn of phrase, and oh my gosh, Vivian Pham can do a clever turn of phrase. So for example, "Talking to her was like talking to a wall that could throw bricks at you." or the wonderful description of a crush: "In her mind, their affair was so artfully conspired that they had managed to keep it a secret even from reality." or the chilling "Sometimes he didn’t come home at all, not for days, but even this did not give Vince any peace. So long as his father had a heartbeat, it could be heard inside that house." Pham's writing sparkles and slams its way through an unconventional love story. At first, I thought this was going to be damn near perfect, but as the book wears on the flaws became more apparent. The pacing has some real issues, and the first half, in particular, dragged a fair bit. And Pham can get too carried away with language - some sections seem included mainly to showcase the phrase the editors couldn't bear to part with, which just becomes distracting. But the book is extremely good. I found myself speculating about why a book written by a teenager about teenagers has not been marketed to a teenage audience. Part of that might be that we have determined that "Young Adult Fiction" has a smaller vocabulary and less challenging language than this, maybe it is not acceptable to market a book with such frank discussions of porn and the drug trade to teenagers. But it is a big shame because as the book wore on, I found myself wishing that teenage me could have read this. I think I would have loved it like I loved the Outsiders - deeply and passionately and in a life-saving way. To say that Pham "gets" teenagers is silly obviously, but it is worth being reminded of sometimes. Sonny, Vince and Najma are impossibly real, their emotional lives that strange mix of high drama and tedium that adolescence reeks of. The trauma, violence, racism and economic marginalisation that marks their lives is seen through their clear lens of fury and frustration - the gap between the pat solutions we offer teens and the realities they are surviving laid clear in a way the best teen books can do. This is a book that makes you want things to be better because you feel the experiences of the protagonists acutely. The adults in the book are seen largely through their children's eyes with heartbreaking love and disappointment, but this adds to, rather than detracts from the narrative. All of which doesn't mean that the book is not for adults - I'm in my mid-40s, and obviously I loved it - but rather that it made me think about how we don't through much modern literature at kids, even when they wrote it. I did get a shock upon realising that Pham wasn't even born when her book was set (protagonists are younger than me, so I just ... Well, ok I got old). Which also leads me to noticing that several professional reviews have described this is as dealing with "modern Australia". I'm not sure if they noticed that it was set two decades ago, but I suspect it means that "modern Australia" has become code for "it's not about White people", which maybe we should examine slightly as to what it says about how we still marginalise parts of Australia. I haven't commented much here on the setting because I don't think I have much to say. It's ridiculous that it has taken 20 years for us to start engaging with the stories of Western Sydney, there are many, many awesome ones coming out now and that's a great thing. Can't wait to see what Pham writes next.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    2.5 stars 'These were the historical deaths; and then there were the deaths he'd grown up with, deaths on every street corner, in every stairwell, at every hour. When your sky is patched up with someone else's last moment, you can't think of how you can begin, where to begin, if there's any room left for beginning anyway when so much has ended.' I loved hearing the story of Vietnamese immigrants settling in the suburbs of Cabramatta, NSW. Being first generation Latvian, I love hearing cultural sto 2.5 stars 'These were the historical deaths; and then there were the deaths he'd grown up with, deaths on every street corner, in every stairwell, at every hour. When your sky is patched up with someone else's last moment, you can't think of how you can begin, where to begin, if there's any room left for beginning anyway when so much has ended.' I loved hearing the story of Vietnamese immigrants settling in the suburbs of Cabramatta, NSW. Being first generation Latvian, I love hearing cultural stories from other nationalities, the inheritance of grief and disassociation. Sonny is an compelling character, at 16 she has to navigate her overbearing mother, rogue grandmother (needed more of her), her own thoughts & desires, plus the reappearance of her childhood friend Vince, whose been away to juvie. My favourite chapter was, 'A thousand prehistoric nights.' After reading that I wished this was a collection of interrelated short stories. I did find some jarring moments that threw me off as a reader. I found the characters background story didn't completely flow into the portrayal of their current circumstances. One example is when Vince tells Sonny that his father is an alcoholic. They were neighbours and childhood friends, so to me it would of been a known entity between them. It jarred an assumed familiarity, a knowingness that kids that would of been brought up like cousins would have. Sonny orders this happy meal & tells us twice that it nuggets, fries & apple juice. A couple pages later, she takes the pickle from her burger and eats it first so the sourness can give her courage??? Editor, were you sleeping? The story is told in 3rd person and switches to omnipresent at the end. Unfortunately this didn't work for me and seemed to wash over the ending, creating ambience, while leaving me with the same conclusion the pages before had created. I also wasn't sure if it was suppose to be Y.A. or adult fiction? There is a lot of overblown descriptions, which definitely needed a ' kill your darlings ' workshop. Mind you there was some strong writing and I am looking forward to the authors future work. Sorry to sound so negative but the parts that rose were golden. I just wanted more like them. 'She will smile that lazy smile that he despises. He will put on his shoes and ask what's for dinner. As though he expects himself home in the evening. For now, the morning doesn't yet exist. There is no night dark enough to defeat the day's definition. But their shadows come close. '

  26. 5 out of 5

    Camila - Books Through My Veins

    I started listening to The Coconut Children's audiobook, but I didn't make it past the first hour because I felt I was missing too much. I'm glad I persevered, giving the physical book a go proving that, in my opinion, audiobooks are not always the best way to enjoy a book. It's astonishing how Pham was a teenager when she wrote this book, proving that talent does not discriminate against age. Pham's writing style is profound, moving and utterly mesmerising. I was not only fascinated by Sunny an I started listening to The Coconut Children's audiobook, but I didn't make it past the first hour because I felt I was missing too much. I'm glad I persevered, giving the physical book a go proving that, in my opinion, audiobooks are not always the best way to enjoy a book. It's astonishing how Pham was a teenager when she wrote this book, proving that talent does not discriminate against age. Pham's writing style is profound, moving and utterly mesmerising. I was not only fascinated by Sunny and Vince's story growing up in Cabramatta in the late '90s, but more so by the way their story was told. I must remark, however, that the poetic writing style was sometimes dense and overwhelming, which required me to re-read sentences several times to grasp their meaning. I also would've loved the translation of all the Vietnamese dialogues and phrases used throughout. Some have categorised this story as a 'coming-of-age' one, but I'd like to add some more: this story is about racism, intergenerational trauma, violence, abuse, addiction and migration; but it's also the story of two teenagers falling in love amid their chaotic lives, with even more chaotic families. Both Sunny and Vince journey through learning: how to cope, how to forgive, how and what to forget, how to keep going, how to find themselves. It suffices to say that this is not a light read: it's impactful and powerful and requires some brainpower, but I can assure that the effort it's absolutely worth it. I devoured and savoured every word, and more than once I wished the book wouldn't come to an end. The characterisation of all the characters, even the secondary ones, was utterly brilliant. Every single person fit perfectly the crucial roles they play in Sunny and Vince's lives. Overall, The Coconut Children is an excellent, enthralling debut novel and a must-read for all Australian readers. It deals with several tough topics in a human, heartfelt way. I'm sure I won't get tired of recommending this book anytime soon.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jackie McMillan

    (3.5 stars) Late Nineties Cabramatta love story: boy and girl grow up together, boy goes to Juvie, comes out, they rekindle relationship now with adult themes, boy gets job dealing heroin, boy gets hurt but nobody dies. While it’s low on plot development, Vivian Pham’s novel, The Coconut Children, contains pockets of beauty and pathos that are well worth plundering. Sonny and Vince are the main protagonists. Sonny’s mother is abusive, though back in the day, nobody else (bar the kids) seemed to re (3.5 stars) Late Nineties Cabramatta love story: boy and girl grow up together, boy goes to Juvie, comes out, they rekindle relationship now with adult themes, boy gets job dealing heroin, boy gets hurt but nobody dies. While it’s low on plot development, Vivian Pham’s novel, The Coconut Children, contains pockets of beauty and pathos that are well worth plundering. Sonny and Vince are the main protagonists. Sonny’s mother is abusive, though back in the day, nobody else (bar the kids) seemed to recognise beating your kids was wrong: “She remembered, too, the fear that froze the world over when her mother brought out the bamboo stick, the way it whistled as it swung in the air, the explosiveness with which it met her flesh.” Vince’s mother is a victim of domestic violence, and his childhood is saturated in it: “Sometimes he didn’t come home at all, not for days, but even this did not give Vince any peace. So long as his father had a heartbeat, it could be heard inside that house.” They soothe each other’s wounds and dream about leaving Western Sydney behind. “But the traces of sulphuric sweetness left over in his mouth were warm and familiar to him. ‘Durian?’” While the prose is, as a whole, overblown, and the plot a bit slow moving, Pham does paint an aromatic picture of Cabramatta life. Running through the descriptions of colourful markets or “Canh khoai, fried fish and rice” is an undercurrent of migration-induced trauma transmitted through the generations: “Some moments hurt so much they can’t ever be lost. We keep them in our pockets; the perfect antithesis to a charm.” Despite not having much of a migration story—my own parents came by very large and secure ships from England and Scotland—I related most to this aspect of Sonny’s story. I also had a mother who was fast with the bamboo stick but “frugal with affection”. And I grew up just on the other—less culturally diverse—side of Lake Gillawarna.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Giovanna Walker

    Some beautiful writing, more poetic than prose. It conjures up vivid imagery. The opening describing the gardens of limes, dragon fruit and mangoes. It sounds like another world - especially here in Australia. It was also good to see another perspective of growing up in Australia, a new voice (not just the white ones). I did take issue with the editing - the Americanisms - or perhaps this edition is aimed at the American market? 'Sidewalk', 'Candy', 'trolley cart'? No. A little thing, but. it di Some beautiful writing, more poetic than prose. It conjures up vivid imagery. The opening describing the gardens of limes, dragon fruit and mangoes. It sounds like another world - especially here in Australia. It was also good to see another perspective of growing up in Australia, a new voice (not just the white ones). I did take issue with the editing - the Americanisms - or perhaps this edition is aimed at the American market? 'Sidewalk', 'Candy', 'trolley cart'? No. A little thing, but. it did annoy me. If you're going to set it local, use local recognisable terms. Footpath, lollies & shopping cart. I didn't make it far into the book, to be honest I'm not particularly interested in teenagers lives - from their perspective. Didn't feel like continuing, I've got many more weeks of lockdown, and just didn't really want to enter the lives of teens. (I'm an 'older' reader). I don't doubt it explores the trauma of being a refugee, the generational trauma. Maybe it was the trauma theme - in the midst of lockdown.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily (em_isreading)

    With The Coconut Children Pham has accomplished what many more experienced writers attempt and fail. This is a sweet and gritty coming of age love story, set against a background of racism, mental health struggles, abuse and neglect. This is a gentle but emotional debut novel, full of the tiny details of the Vietnamese migrant life in Australia. Pham is an accomplished story teller, with an evocative style and talent for character development and depth. There are great moments of humour, which w With The Coconut Children Pham has accomplished what many more experienced writers attempt and fail. This is a sweet and gritty coming of age love story, set against a background of racism, mental health struggles, abuse and neglect. This is a gentle but emotional debut novel, full of the tiny details of the Vietnamese migrant life in Australia. Pham is an accomplished story teller, with an evocative style and talent for character development and depth. There are great moments of humour, which were used at perfect moments to break tension and relax the reader. I look forward to more work from Pham, and seeing her writing grow and evolve.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Mary

    I have to admit - the title and gorgeous front cover are the main reasons why I bought this book. But, it turned out to be a great choice! I absolutely devoured it in about 24 hours, lapping up every word, enjoying the opportunity to read about lives and experiences that I know so little about. The blurb describes it as "urgent, moving and wise" and that is 100% accurate. I would definitely recommend this book! I have to admit - the title and gorgeous front cover are the main reasons why I bought this book. But, it turned out to be a great choice! I absolutely devoured it in about 24 hours, lapping up every word, enjoying the opportunity to read about lives and experiences that I know so little about. The blurb describes it as "urgent, moving and wise" and that is 100% accurate. I would definitely recommend this book!

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