The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir HC
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Price: $24.95
Creator: Thi Bui
Format: 336 pgs., Two-tone color, 6.5"x9", Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1877-9
Age Rating: N/A
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

This review is based on an early galley, with early roughs of the artwork.

The Best We Could Do is a strong multi-generational memoir of a family from the 1940s until the recent past.  While it is difficult to evaluate the unfinished artwork, the storytelling of Thi Bui is very strong.  Its only weakness is the non-sequential nature of the story, which makes the tale confusing in spots.  The reader has to keep track of unfamiliar names over many pages, many decades, and many locations.

Thus, with a story beginning in 2005 but telling stories taking place in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, there’s a lot to keep track of for the reader.  For readers old enough to remember the Vietnam War and the wave of refugees coming to the United States at its end, this is a sad and somewhat familiar story.  For those younger, it’s an enlightening look back, and history told sideways, as the reader learns much more about the motivations of those on both sides of the war.  Thi Bui pulls no punches in her telling of the history of Southeast Asia, explaining why and how so many of the Vietnamese gravitated toward Communism as the only alternative to the French and those who supported the French.  Americans were focused on American losses during the long war, but the French also lost 94,000 soldiers struggling to regain a colony lost during World War II, with many more Vietnamese dying during the struggle.

This is not just a war story, though.  It puts the war into the context of family and life, and the struggles of the family are in turn set against the larger struggle.  This is not an easy read, and will not be for everyone, but adults and older teens willing to make their way through the book will be rewarded.

--Nick Smith: Library Technician, Community Services, for the Pasadena Public Library in California.