Imagine you’re an American born writer from Grand Rapids, Michigan living with your wife and two kids in Klongsamwa,Thailand. You teach at an International school and become frustrated with your student’s apathy toward writing. You tell them that writing is easy; so easy that you could write a book if you wanted to.
In the hopes of inspiring your students, you make a deal with them. You sign a contract saying you will shave your head completely bald if you don’t write and finish a book by the end of the school year, as long as they promise to work harder at their writing.
Then the worst flooding disaster ever affecting Thailand hits. (In 2011,Thailand’s flooding disaster killed over 800 people and displaced hundreds of thousands). Your school shuts down for five weeks and you’re trapped in your house with your family, completely surrounded by water. What would you do?
Well, Patrick Maher, this very teacher, trapped in his house during the Thailand flood, completed Pleng’s Song, his popular and now best selling novel in Asia, which spawned from one promise he made during class.
Maher told me in an email: “The book was intended to be a gift for each of my students but it’s gotten a little bigger than that now.” It sure has! Pleng’s Song (140 pages), published by Booksmango in 2012, has been a sell-out in Asia. The Nation (A popular paper in Thailand) gave his book “two thumbs up” and I’d have to agree.
Pleng’s Song’s target audience is young adult readers (ages 10 and up) and yet it can be enjoyed by adults. It is a work of fiction in which the main character, Pleng, initially keeps a diary and then tells us her lonely story: what life is like at her school, Union of Hearts International, and what life is like at home with a drunk mother and an absent father. She’s a rich kid who has to struggle with personal family crisis but when the flood hits, Pleng’s adventure begins.
The reader follows her action-packed odyssey. After leaving her home, she is struggling to survive. Battling the rising water, she’s swept away and periodically finds small strips of land that isn’t buried by water yet. Here she finds rest and food which only consists of fruit and the meat taken from the snakes she catches and kills.
Pleng is presumed dead but she’s finally rescued by a helicopter and that’s when the storyline shifts. She is no longer struggling to survive but is having to deal with unwanted fame. After her rescue, Pleng is dubbed “The Flood Girl” and “The Girl Who Captured Thailand’s Heart.” She’s hounded by media and the kids at school show a new, often annoying interest in her. She learns sad news about her mom and makes an upsetting discovery about her father, when all the girl wants is to live a “normal life”.
She meets interesting characters, like Billy, a homeless kid, orphaned after both parents were killed in a car crash that he survived, leaving him with a wooden leg. To survive, Billy begs for money and after meeting Pleng, the two develop an unusual friendship that has a realistic but very bittersweet ending.
Having taught middle school English, I think this novel would be great to integrate with geography or a unit on Thailand. As a mom, I believe all young readers will be charmed by the novel’s simple and clear “kid like” language and relate to the protagonist’s school experience. The plot is fast paced with surprises at various turns which will keep the young (and adult!) reader interested.
Pleng’s Song has some humorous parts, but the reader will feel empathy towards Pleng’s personal struggle and family drama. It’s a moving story that will keep the reader flipping it’s pages and wanting more.
Asia already knows what a great book Pleng’s Song is. It’s time America learns what a wonderful read it is too.
I wonder if Patrick Maher would consider making another bet with his class… I’d like to read a sequel to Pleng’s Song! How about it Patrick?