It took Thanhha Lai 15 years to write her first novel, but it was well worth the wait.
Thanhha Lai was eating chocolate cake at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, nearly 9,000 miles from her birthplace. It was the evening of November 16, and she was about to be astonished.
“I thought surely I possess enough social grace to chew and clap simultaneously, so why not eat?” says the 46-year-old author, who never imagined that her debut novel would actually win one of our nation’s most prestigious literary prizes. But that was before author-historian Marc Aronson stood behind a lectern in the restaurant’s grand ballroom to announce the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and began ticking off the list of nominees.