Memoir of a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl

Surviving the Cambodian Genocide

A ABSOLUTE PAGE TURNER, YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PUT IT DOWN: One of the most moving books ever written. The poignant and  often terrifying testimony of thirteen year old Channy Chhi and her struggle to survive the  brutal Khmer Rouge's forced labor camps and the mass genocide within. This alone would make a compelling tome but the journey is so much more.  

Channy's tangible style puts us in the middle of the narrative through the intimate detailing of everyday life.  The night and day transformation from a typical urban schoolgirl to a cog in Pol Pot's rural slave labor camps conveys the palpable dread.

Channy's writing style jumps off the page in such a personal and intimate way the author's distinctive voice and emotional honesty serves to firmly causes the reader's emotions to mimic Channys' emotions every step of her journey.  You don't read Short Hair Detention, you feel it, you smell it, you fear it. It takes a great author to put you in their world, many try, almost all fail to be this effective.  The book is massively moving because she puts you there, do not be surprised if you find yourself yelling out loud , "No, Leave her alone!" many times throughout. It's that powerful.

Though the book by necessity requires, in fact demands the conveyance of fear, horror and shock that is not to say this is depressing work, it is the story of a young girl finding her inner strength and courage. Channy, through her prose,  leads the reader through her transformation, from the ashes of a wrecked life emerges a young  girl who is determined against all odds to reunite with her mother Em. Even the worst events are often riddled with humor, at times aimed at the Khmer Rouge guards and at times the ordinary observations of a young teenager. Channy paints this emotional shift vividly and with purpose, as a constructive device you can actually feel the slow cognitive power shift from a victimhood to raw courage. Channys' change from victim to an amazingly subversive and intelligent teenager leads to a bittersweet but truly happy ending which I refuse to reveal. It would be a disservice to the author to even try.

Perhaps the most beautiful and uplifting part of this story as a whole is THIS IS A LOVE STORY, the story of the bond between mother and daughter that is indestructible. A unwavering bond which could not be even remotely touched by insurmountable obstacles, a shattered childhood  and a entire army of brutal armed thugs whose orders were to prevent the author's actions of defiance with bullets.

This is the story of an uncaring world which turned its head and did nothing while a single young girl built up her courage and risked death to say ENOUGH, YOU CAN'T TAKE MY FAMILY FROM ME!

If you are going to read one nonfiction book this year this is the one, it has rightfully earned its place between The Diary of Anne Frank and Rutka's Notebook as a powerhouse of the best and worst of the human nature.

MARK MERCER Juris Doctorate 1994, Vice Mayor & Finance Commissioner of the City of Nebraska City 2005-2014, Humanitarian.

Review by Mark Mercer