The Clay Marble
The Clay Marble

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Annotation: In the late 1970s twelve-year-old Dara joins a refugee camp in war-torn Cambodia and becomes separated from her family.
Catalog Number: #55401
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Copyright Date: 1991
Edition Date: 1995
Pages: 163 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-374-41229-4 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-5401-4
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-374-41229-6 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-5401-9
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 91014093
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Subject Heading:
Cambodia. Fiction.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
War kills people who aren't even fighting in it. Forced to flee from her Cambodian village to the border with Thailand in the early 1980s, 12-year-old Dara doesn't care which side is winning. She can't distinguish one faction from another. All she wants is to go home with what remains of her family and plant the rice crop for a new season. At first, the border refugee camp provides comfort, but then the shelling hits there, too. In the turmoil, Dara is separated from her family, and her best friend is critically wounded. Unlike Ho's fine Rice without Rain for older readers, this never gets beyond a docunovel. There's little sense of personal conflict within the social upheaval. Characters are idealized and formulaic, the story's contrived to fit the events, and the magic clay marble is tediously overworked as a symbol of Dara's courage. However, the harrowing facts, described without sensationalism, give readers a vivid sense of the time and place. Like the many other refugee accounts published this year, Dara's story helps us imagine what it means to be far from home. (Reviewed Nov. 15, 1991)
Kirkus Reviews
Drawing on her experience with a relief organization on the Thai border, Ho tells the story of a Cambodian family, fleeing the rival factions of the 80's while hoping to gather resources to return to farming in their homeland. Narrator Dara, 12, and the remnants of her family have arrived at a refugee camp soon after her father's summary execution. At first, the camp is a haven: food is plentiful, seed rice is available, and they form a bond with another family- -brother Sarun falls in love with Nea, and Dara makes friends with Nea's cousin, Jantu, who contrives marvelous toys from mud and bits of scrap; made wise by adversity, Jantu understands that the process of creation outweighs the value of things, and that dead loved ones may live on in memory. The respite is brief: Vietnamese bombing disrupts the camp, and the family is temporarily but terrifyingly separated. Later, Jantu is wounded by friendly fire and doesn't survive; but her tragic death empowers Dara to confront Sarun, who's caught up in mindless militarism instigated by a charismatic leader, and persuade him to travel home with the others—to plant rice and build a family instead of waging war. Again, Ho (Rice Without Rain, 1990) skillfully shapes her story to dramatize political and humanitarian issues. The easily swayed Sarun lacks dimension, but the girls are more subtly drawn—Dara's growing courage and assertiveness are especially convincing and admirable. Touching, authentic, carefully wrought- -and with an unusually appealing jacket. (Fiction. 11-15)"
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-- After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 12-year-old Dara, her older brother Sarun, and their mother journey to the Thai border in search of food. Here they meet the remnants of another Cambodian family, one of whose members, Jantu, becomes Dara's friend; another, Nea, falls in love with Sarun. Life is going along well until infighting among neighboring guerrilla groups forces the families to flee again. In the confusion, Dara and Jantu become separated from the main group. After many incidents, they are reunited with their families, although Jantu is shot in the process and dies soon after. Sarun, once a proud farmer, wants to join the military. Dara courageously stands up to him, and convinces him to return home with the family. The title comes from Jantu's effervescence and manual dexterity, the combination of which impresses Dara as magic. She believes a clay marble, having been invested with Jantu's magic, gives her the courage to get through her ordeals. Dara and Jantu are well drawn, but the rest of the characters are not much more than pasteboard figures. Ho excels at tropical description, evoking climate and flaura with skill. The contrasts of frantic activity and enervating inaction of refugee life are also vividly depicted. However, Dara's vocabulary when she thinks to herself does not ring true for her age; few 12-year-olds would consciously characterize themselves as ``irritable'' or others as ``glib''--certainly not illiterate 12-year-olds from rural areas. Older children might find this novel of interest for its historical milieu or slice-of-life realism, albeit from a different reality. --John Philbrook, San Francisco Public Library
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Word Count: 40,531
Reading Level: 5.4
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.4 / points: 6.0 / quiz: 36017 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:6.8 / points:9.0 / quiz:Q02290
Lexile: 860L
Guided Reading Level: V
Fountas & Pinnell: V

Fleeing war-torn Cambodia in 1980, Dara, her mother, and her older brother find sanctuary in a refugee settlement on the Thailand border, but when fighting erupts, Dara finds herself separated from everyone and everything she loves.

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