Noodle Pie

Omnibus (Scholastic) (2008)
ISBN: 9 781862 917637

Andy’s father fled Hanoi over 20 years ago as a refugee and now he’s returned for his first visit. Andy’s come along too, but he’s not having much fun. Vietnam is a shock – the locals are all on the make, his relatives are greedy and impatient, and their restaurant is a joke. When Andy discovers that over the years both sides of the family have been twisting the truth, he comes up with a bright idea to improve the family fortunes.

A warm and funny story about family, cultural differences – oh, and noodles!

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Prizes and Awards:
  • Shortlisted for the National Festival Awards (2010) - Read the judges' notes
  • Book of the Year Award, Speech Pathology Australia (2009)
Learn more:


oOo

READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF NOODLE PIE

According to Andy’s father, they were going home. As the Vietnam Airlines jet began its descent he gazed out the window.

‘The last time I see that coastline,’ he said, ‘I was squashed inside a rusty fishing boat with sixty other people, heading out to sea. No room to stretch out or lie down, nothing to do for three days and nights, seas very high. Water slosh in around our feet all time. Everyone seasick. Everyone praying we won’t sink or be raided by pirates.’

The first time Andy had heard that story he’d imagined the kind of pirates he’d read about in books or seen on the screen: dashing dudes in frilly shirts brandishing cutlasses.

‘Three times we were raided,’ his father went on.

‘When we reach Thailand, we have only the clothes on our backs. Officials in the refugee camp search us again, looking for money and gold to steal, but we tell them, “We have nothing left!” Pirates take it all.’ His father laughed, as if he were telling an amusing story.

Perhaps it seemed funny to him now because it all happened so long ago, Andy thought. But it couldn’t have been very funny at the time, especially when you were barely fifteen-years-old and on your own. His father never talked very much about that time in his life, and he’d never before been back to the country of his birth.

‘What would happen if you went back to Vietnam, Dad?’ Andy had asked him once, years ago.

‘They would lock me up. Maybe shoot me.’

‘Why?’

‘Because my family anti-Communist and because I escape.’

Yet here they were, going back. Well, not Andy. He’d been born in Australia. The trip wasn’t a going back for him, it was a going to.

He looked out the window at the green coastline and the vastness of the ocean and tried to imagine myself doing what his father had done. He’d be scared, he knew that. He wasn’t even sure he’d be brave enough to leave in the first place. But if his father had stayed, he, Andrew Nguyen, aged eleven years and seven months, wouldn’t be sitting here now, flying into Hanoi with an Australian passport in his pocket. His father had an Australian passport too. That was probably the reason it was now safe for him to go back.

When the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign came on, Andy obediently clicked his into place. To many of the Vietnamese on board, however, the sign seemed to convey another message entirely, one that said, ‘Beat the rush and get ready now’. They jumped to their feet and opened overhead lockers. They pulled down bags and parcels, and put on hats and jackets. They jostled in the aisles, their faces tense and eager, as if they were in a race and they were waiting for the jet to touch down before they sprinted for the door.

Andy looked at them disapprovingly. Didn’t they realise this was the most dangerous time of the entire flight? Hadn’t they read the safety and emergency evacuation guides in their seat pockets?

‘They should stay in their seats until we come to a complete stop,’ he said to his father.

‘We could hit an air pocket, the wheels might not come down, the pilot might miss the runway, a bird could fly into the windscreen – ’

‘They excited to be coming home,’ his father said. ‘And for some, maybe first time in aeroplane.’

‘It’s my first flight, too,’ Andy said. ‘But I still know the safety rules.’

‘Smart boy. Not everybody have your education,’ his father said.

Andy didn’t think it had anything to do with education. He’d noted how the Vietnamese pushed their way onto the plane, elbowing past other passengers, taking all the space in the overhead lockers and under the seats. Now they seemed determined to be the first ones off. Vietnamese, he concluded, were just selfish and impatient. If he got around to writing a travel diary, that would be his first entry.

His father said it was a very good idea to write everything down in a travel diary: ‘Then you don’t forget all the different happenings and can tell your mother and your friends everything when you get home.’

Andy thought that if he wanted to tell his mother and friends what he was doing – and he wasn’t sure that he could be bothered – there was always email. Vietnam had heaps of cheap internet cafes, according to his teacher, Mrs Gowdie, who had been there last year on a Discovery Tour. He wasn’t interested in keeping a daily diary. But observations – he was good at those. Last term for Science Mrs Gowdie had made everyone keep an Observations notebook (‘Science is about observing and drawing conclusions from those observations’), and he’d got the highest mark for his. Nobody else in the class had recorded so many different observations on hopping mice, Mrs Gowdie said.

On the intercom, the captain ordered everybody to sit down and buckle up. The flight attendants scuttled down the aisles and eventually everyone was persuaded to resume their seats. There was a buzz of excitement and babies started to howl as the patchwork land loomed closer and closer.

Andy’s father seemed nervous. He licked his lips as he peered out the window, and he twisted and turned the thick gold ring studded with diamonds on his finger. Andy stared, noticing it for the first time. The gold watch on his wrist was new, too. When had his father acquired such luxuries? They certainly hadn’t been on his hand when they left home. Perhaps he’d bought them at the Duty Free shop where expensive things were supposed to be really cheap. They must have been a bargain; normally, his father would never dream of spending money on jewellery, especially for himself. He usually wore a battered old Timex that had been on his wrist for as long as Andy could remember.

‘Pretty flash,’ Andy said, pointing. ‘When did you get them?’

‘Where are your shoes?’ his father said, ignoring the question.

‘Under the seat in front. I can’t get them without unbuckling my seat belt, and I don’t think I should do that. This is the most dangerous time – ‘

‘Find them and put them on.’

Andy unbuckled his seat belt and scrabbled around on the floor. He hoped the flight attendants couldn’t see him. They’d think he was another of those ignorant Vietnamese passengers. He located his sneakers and struggled to put them on. It was difficult in the confined space. He couldn’t bend down properly and his feet seemed to have grown a size since he’d left home. If the plane hit an air pocket now, he’d bounce up sharply and hit his head on the ‘Fasten seatbelts’ sign.

He managed to tie his laces and straightened up, his face flushed. His father glanced at him critically, and frowned when he noticed the stains on the front of his T-shirt.

‘From when I opened that can of Coke,’ Andy explained. ‘It must be the air pressure or something. The same thing happened with the orange juice. And those little tubs of milk. And the mineral water, but you can’t see that.’ He rubbed ineffectually at his T-shirt. That was another observation: airline liquids sealed with foil exploded when opened at altitude. Airlines should use screwtops. If he saw the pilot, he’d mention it to him.

‘You can put jacket on after we land.’

His father had hardly moved from his seat during the long flight, and there wasn’t a single wrinkle in his dark suit pants, on his white business shirt, or his tie. All new, all bought for the trip home. Andy wondered why he had chosen such uncomfortable clothes to travel in. At home on weekends, when he wasn’t working, he wore jeans or a track suit, and sitting for hours in a plane seat watching a little screen was pretty much like sitting in a chair watching TV at home. A more uncomfortable chair, of course.

At least both he and his father were normal size. The lady across the aisle was so big she overflowed the confines of her seat. With her seatbelt fastened tightly across her middle, she looked like a Whopper burger stuffed into a Junior container.

A flight attendant in a green ao dai headed down the aisle towards them.

Guiltily, Andy quickly reached for his seatbelt, but he was sitting on one half of it and was forced to do a little jig in his seat. Caught out! Now he’d be reprimanded in front of the entire Economy section. Well, rows 40 to 55, anyway. How embarrassing.

The flight attendant didn’t seem to notice that he wasn’t buckled in. She handed his father his suit jacket, which he’d given to her to hang up when they’d boarded the flight. ‘Here you are, Mr Nguyen,’ she said in Vietnamese. She smiled at Andy and asked his name.

Before he could reply, his father told her: ‘Nguyen Cuong Anh’.

We haven’t even landed in the country, but already he’s calling me by my Vietnamese name. Fastening his seat belt, he said, ‘My name’s Andrew Nguyen.’ And then he added, ‘I’m Australian.’ He wasn’t sure why he wanted her to know that. Perhaps it was just to let her know that he could speak Vietnamese.

‘Is this your first visit to Vietnam?’ she asked.

Andy nodded. Two years ago his mother had taken his younger sister Mai with her to visit her family in Saigon, and now it was his turn. He said, ‘We’re visiting my father’s family in Hanoi’. His family, too, of course, although he’d never met any of them.

‘You’ll have a lot to talk about,’ the attendant said. ‘I bet there’ll be a crowd to welcome you at the airport.’

‘Big crowd,’ said his father. ‘First time home for us both.’

The flight attendant said something to him in Vietnamese that Andy didn’t understand, but he nodded intelligently as if he did.

As she walked back down the aisle, he was suddenly nervous. The truth was his Vietnamese wasn’t that good. At home, he talked to his parents in a mixture of both languages – what he called ‘Vietlish’ – although it was more English than Vietnamese. He knew his grandparents didn’t speak English. Would he be able to understand them? Would they understand him? He’d forget what little he did know and be tongue-tied. Or he’d say something really stupid, which was easy to do in Vietnamese, because one word could mean several different things, depending on how you pronounced it. For example, you might think you were asking someone to pass the salt, but what you were actually saying was, ‘Pass me the nose,’ or ‘Pass me ten’ or ‘Pass me the smell’. The same word meant all four things.

‘Got your passport?’ his father asked.

Yes, of course I’ve got my passport. You’ve asked me at least a dozen times since we left home. He pulled it out of his pocket. His father had wanted to carry it in his travel wallet along with their tickets and other documents, but Andy had stubbornly refused to surrender it. If he was old enough to have his own passport, he was old enough to be responsible for it.

He pulled out the duplicated customs form he’d signed earlier and started to read the small print on the back. No, he wasn’t bringing any guns, explosives, knives or pornographic material into the country – unlike the blonde girl two rows to his left who was stuffing a copy of Cosmo into her shoulder bag. He could see a cleavage on the cover and some headlines: ‘Sex sizzlers and fizzlers’; ‘My boyfriend owns my boobs’. Customs would be onto that like a shot; she really ought to leave the magazine on the plane.

He was just about to lean over and suggest this to her when something else on the form caught his eye. Also prohibited were “children’s toys having negative effects on personality development”. He showed it to his father. ‘What does this mean?’

His father read it and shrugged. ‘Who knows? War games, violent computer games, perhaps. Vietnam has a Communist government, remember. There’s a lot of censorship.’

‘What’s censorship?’ Andy asked.

‘It’s when the government decides what people can’t see or read or listen to.’

Or play with. Andy thought of the GameBoy in their hand luggage. They’d bought in the Duty Free for his cousin, Hien. He reminded his father, who shook his head and said, ‘I don’t think Customs would confiscate that.’

Andy certainly hoped not. First of all, it had cost heaps and second, how could a GameBoy possibly have a negative effect on development? Computer games were excellent in improving hand and eye co-ordination; even Mrs Fossey at school, who considered most modern technology more trouble than it was worth, admitted that.
He tried to think of toys that the Vietnamese government might not approve of. All he could come up with was Barbie, with her clothes and sports cars and houses with swimming pools. A lot of Vietnamese didn’t even have a bicycle or running water, his father had told him. No, communists wouldn’t look kindly on Barbie.

‘Did Mai take her Barbie to Saigon?’ he asked. ‘I reckon we would have heard the scream in Australia if Customs had tried to take it off her.’

His father wasn’t paying attention. He peered out the window intently as, with a slight bump and jolt, the plane landed. Many of the passengers applauded, as if complimenting the pilot on a job well done. As if he could hear them way up in the cockpit. All around him, Andy heard the snap, snap, snap of seatbelts.

‘We’re home,’ his father said.

oOo

A review of Noodle Pie
by Kane Miller
BookDragon – Smithsonian Asian American Pacific Program 
January, 2010

Andy Nguyen is most definitely Australian, not Vietnamese. And yet his father insists they’re going “home” to Vietnam, somewhere Andy has never been. Andy’s Dad is Viet Kieu, a name given to Vietnamese-born immigrants who live in other countries around the world. Returning Viet Kieu have certain expectations placed on them for having been the lucky ones to have been able to leave.

For the first time in decades since he escaped the devastation and horrors of war in Vietnam, Andy’s father is finally coming home. But for Andy, the return is marked by culture shock … not to mention some disappointment. He can’t understand why his father has bought himself a new gold watch and ring which he knows his family can’t afford. He’s shocked to discover his Vietnamese family’s “famous” restaurant is hardly more than a shack. He’s surrounded by a language he only partially understands, and unfamiliar faces that only seem to demand more, more, more than what he and his father have already generously brought.

But with the help of an enterprising young cousin, and a hefty dose of honesty from his father, Andy finally comes to understand his family history, and the love and dedication that binds them all together, even if he’s more Australian than not.

Author Starke, an award-winning writer in her native Australia, does an admirable job of enhancing her story with Vietnamese history and contemporary issues. Through Andy’s experiences, she shows the interaction between comparatively wealthy western tourists, and the native Vietnamese with a weekly median income that would not even pay for ice cream in a fancy tourist cafe.

She gives glimpses of the life of the bui doi, literally the children of the dust, who live on the streets trying desperately to survive. She expertly weaves in the real-life group restaurant Koto – Know One Teach One – established by an Australian Viet Kieu, which gives street children the opportunity to get off the streets, learn a valuable trade, and hope for a better future.

She also includes a few tasty recipes at book’s end … good nutrition for both the tummy and soul.

A review of Noodle Pie
from A Patchwork of Books, America
January 28, 2010

Ruth Starke has done a great job at introducing cultural differences and family bonds to middle grade readers. Andy had realistic thoughts and feelings about his extended family members and the culture they lived in. He didn't understand their rudeness, their impatience, and the manner in which they showed each other love. He also struggled with the idea of being both Australian and Vietnamese and wasn't quite sure how to blend those in a good way.

The revelations that Andy came to throughout the book were some of which I think we could all learn from when it comes to different cultures...not to mention, our families!

I loved all the food aspects of the book, great descriptions that made me hungry from the very beginning. If you're a fan of Asian food, make sure you eat before the book starts or you'll be starving after the first couple of chapters! Hand this to your middle graders, use it as a discussion piece for different cultures and their unique qualities.

A review of Noodle Pie
from Kids Bookshelf,, America
February, 2010

Andy's heard the story about his father's long and difficult journey from Vietnam to Australia many times. For Andy, visiting Vietnam and meeting relatives he never knew is a little strange. For his dad, a refugee returning for the first time, it's even more complicated.

Andy doesn't understand why everyone in Vietnam, including family, think his father is rich and act very greedy. And he really doesn't understand why his father lets them believe it.

When Andy starts to get over his initial culture shock, he begins to really see life in Vietnam, and understands that the world doesn't work the same everywhere. A great book to show young readers how other cultures live.

A review of Noodle Pie
from Publishers' Weekly, America
February 22, 2010

Eleven-year-old Andy's first trip to Vietnam with his father, a “Viet Kieu” (someone born in Vietnam who now lives overseas), exposes him to internalized prejudices about his heritage and provides insight into the different yet “same-same” struggles of his nuclear and extended families.

Initially, Andy distinguishes himself from his pushy relatives by emphasizing his Australian citizenship and criticizing customs that seem unfair (such as his cousin Minh's low status as the child of a divorcée). And the visit soon gives rise to questions: why does his hardworking, penny-pinching father bestow gifts Andy knows they can't afford? Why does the “famous” family restaurant look like a ramshackle shop?

Excitement builds when Andy and Minh entice tourists to the restaurant with an English menu, resulting in some lighthearted mayhem (when Andy is unsure about Minh's idea to put a fake blurb from Nicole Kidman on the menu, she replies, “Maybe she been here and nobody notice”). But this episode in stretching the truth leads to greater honesty and compassion all around.

This humorous, touching novel is a delicious cross-cultural treat, and includes an appendix of Vietnamese recipes.

A review of Noodle Pie
from BookViews by Alan Caruba
March 1, 2010

From Kane Miller there’s Ruth Starke’s Noodle Pie ($15.99) that tells the story of American-born Andy who returns to Vietnam with his dad, a former refugee returning for the first time to visit his relatives. Talk about culture shock, but it is also a valuable lesson in learning about Vietnam.

A review of Noodle Pie
from BiblioReads, by R.C, age 15
March 1, 2010

Noodle Pie is a warm story about a boy who learns more about his Vietnamese family and their culture. The main character, Andy, visits Vietnam for the first time with his father, an escaped refugee who is returning for the first time to visit his family.  Andy experiences culture shock and at first thinks little of his family and their small, dirty restaurant.  However, things change over time as he grows to understand and like his family.

I found Noodle Pie particularly interesting because it focuses on the Vietnamese culture which I didn’t know much about.  I would recommend this book to someone who enjoys coming-of-age stories.

A review of Noodle Pie
from VOYA by Stacey Hayman
April, 2010

Andy is almost twelve, and he is taking his first plane ride, using his first passport, and meeting his father’s family all on the same trip. It is also the first time his father has vis- ited his family since he escaped from Hanoi in the early 1970s. There is a lot for Andy to take in, from the complex family, to speaking Vietnamese, to the unrecognizable foods, but he finds his father the most confusing.

Back home in Australia, Andy’s parents are constantly reminding him they are not made of money. In Vietnam, Andy’s father wears fancy new clothes, passes out gifts, and gives money to everyone. The Nguyen family’s famous restaurant turns out to be a small storefront with rooms for the family to live in. Perhaps both sides have been exaggerating the stories of their success. Are Andy’s controversial ideas for updating the family restaurant going to change their fortunes for the better, or has he insulted his family beyond forgiveness?

It is easy to engage with Andy and his family. Learning about daily life in Hanoi through Andy’s eyes makes it easier for readers to understand some of the bigger issues in Vietnam. The problem of street children is offset by the eclectic variety of food selections, and the poor school systems are offset by how well the younger people can speak English, which allows the country to be portrayed as neither all good nor all bad. Recipes at the end of the book are interesting and will pique the curiosity of interested readers.

A review of Noodle Pie
from BlogCritics
March 12, 2010

I really enjoyed Ruth Starke’s new YA novel, Noodle Pie. I admit, the title sucked me in at once with the whole visual it created, but the storytelling and the father/son relationship with the Vietnam background was just absorbing.

I was a teen during the Vietnam War, and I saw the stark images of what was going on over there at the time every night on the television news. The images of the last helicopter taking off from Saigon were incredible, one of those that will live on in memory forever.

Starke’s audience are going to lack the historical depth that I have while reading this book, but she builds in such an interesting family that younger readers without knowledge of the war are going to be drawn in by the emotional drama between those people.

Andy grew up in Australia and doesn’t really have a clue about his father’s birth country. He’d heard dozens of times about the nightmare boat ride that brought his father out of that country, so the story has lost some of its punch. However, his father starts acting weird while on the trip over to Vietnam. Dressed in new clothes, wearing a fancy gold watch and diamond ring that they could never afford, his dad starts acting like he’s wealthy. Andy knows they’re not.

I loved the mystery of Andy’s dad, and what was really at the root of the change. The reader doesn’t find out what’s going on until the end of the book, and by then the story is really ready to be told most effectively.

Starke also seems to know her way around the Vietnamese streets. The life there, quick and vibrant and sometimes desperate, springs to life off the pages. I’ve got images in my head of the scooters and cyclos that won’t leave me for a long time. And the whole cooking on the ground in front of an open-air restaurant just blows me away.

Some of the best aspects of the book are the relationships between the different family members and how Andy relates to them. I especially enjoyed the way he traveled through the city with his dad as his dad kept seeing all the changes that had taken place since he’d been gone.

Noodle Pie is an excellent novel for young readers because it explores themes that kids can understand (fear of strange places, alienation, not knowing where they fit in a big family) while at the same time offering the experience of a foreign country that’s very different than what most of them know.

One of my favorite bits of the book, though, was the KOTO Restaurant. It’s a real-life place. With the motto, Know One Teach One (which is where it gets the name), the restaurant has captured my interest. I’m going to look it up on the internet and send a donation along. I encourage readers of this review to do the same. And read the book. It’s good.

oOo

Festival Awards for Literature 2010
Shortlisted book: National Children's Award
Judges' notes

Noodle Pie is as delicious as Vietnamese street food.

We are there, sitting on a small plastic stool while the traffic crawls past and we slurp our beef pho. And we are with newly arrived Andy (Anh), trapped in a room with twenty of his relatives, eighteen of whom probably want to strangle him.

Andy is a foreigner in a foreign country and he's facing his newly discovered family which includes the feisty girl, Minh, and the formidable Aunty Mo. Andy's father, who had fled Vietnam as a refugee more than twenty years ago has returned to Hanoi from Australia, bringing Andy with him.

The charm and fun of this book come from its believability. The people are real, flawed and full of surprises. Even Andy's crazy scheme to improve his family's fortunes uncovers some 'noodle lies' about his family.

Noodle Pie is Ruth Starke at her best and like the recipes at the end, this book makes us want more.

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