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The student news site of Carlisle High School

Periscope

The student news site of Carlisle High School

Periscope

Staff Profile
Mason Neal
Mason Neal
Staff Writer

Beauty Within Hardship: A Review of “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” (Review)

Student+reads+book+on+stairs+completely+engaged+in+the+novel.+On+Earth+Were+Briefly+Gorgeous+is+the+perfect+spring+to+summer+read.+
Laura Sands
Student reads book on stairs completely engaged in the novel. “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is the perfect spring to summer read.

Vietnamese American Poet and Novelist Ocean Vuong’s most popular book, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is a powerful exploration of identity, love, family, and the inner complexities of human experiences. The novel takes place in the 1990s from the perspective of the main character, Little Dog, through his letters to his mother who cannot read. As Little Dog delves into his family history through the retelling of childhood memories, as well as taking into account his Vietnamese roots and culture, he faces many brutal awakenings of modern American reality. 

Little Dog, son of an immigrant mother from Vietnam, shares stories from his family before he was born and the impact it has on them, and himself as he grows up. The intergenerational trauma he shares impacts the way he views his own life, and after each story he’s told and the more he discovers about his family’s history, reveals difficult topics he then has to work through. 

Presented with many hardships throughout the novel, Little Dog as a narrator provides a raw and natural perspective of his struggles and internal battles as he navigates young adulthood. Unfiltered, Little Dog retells his experiences with his sexuality, addiction, trauma, and loss, which creates the sense of reality within the fictional story. 

Through the letters to his mother, Little Dog explores his early memories from the way he remembers them and the effect they had on him, as a way of confessing to his mother what he’s been through. Although she will never be able to read them, Little Dog writes as if she will, making the letters vulnerable and honest. 

Vuong’s novel is gut-wrenchingly beautiful in every aspect: his writing is intimate and vulnerable, yet poetic and lyrical. He shows a mastery in language through his use of vivid imagery, metaphorical phrases and precise honesty that creates an intricate, yet meaningful experience for the reader. At times, the underlying meaning of his anecdotes and allegories can be difficult to grasp, however, his writing can be interpreted, allowing for a deeper connection to the novel. Although the subjects of discussion are sensitive and difficult to read occasionally, the disturbing manners are addressed in an intentional way, to ensure it’s done with an appropriate approach while still maintaining the severity of the situations. This attention to detail is what sets Vuong’s novel apart from the rest. The thoughtfulness and care he put into his book elevates Little Dog’s story to the next level. 

Although the stories of Little Dog are specific and unique, the lessons and discoveries he makes along the way are up for interpretation, making countless takeaways for every type of person. With the inclusion of poems, sheer confessions, and childhood anecdotes, Vuong characterizes Little Dog in such a meticulous way, carefully crafting his character to be unique, yet relatable.

The main portion of the novel is Little Dog struggling through his teenage years and experiencing all of his ‘firsts’. Vuong was able to capture the awkwardness, tension, confusion and freshness of a young adult living through their first relationship and dealing with other outside pressures. The writing through these experiences can be seen as dull or somewhat contradictory, but considering the characterization of Little Dog and what he is going through, Vuong’s quick-witted sentences and analyses of mundane actions perfectly captures the emotional teenage experience. Because of this, Vuong is often over-analyzing and processing small details while also flashing back and forth between time periods, which further gives the sense of truly seeing Little Dog’s view of his life and knowing what he is feeling. On the surface, these analyses are seemingly unimportant and can be viewed as overkill, but once put into the perspective of the whole book and watching Little Dog’s character development unfold, his observations make sense and begin to create that emotional view of Little Dog’s life. 

With an emotional and analytical perspective on life, Little Dog digs deep into the mundanities of everyday life while also uncovering repressed trauma and various mental battles. This style of writing isn’t for everyone, but for those who find meaning in anything and everything, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is perfect. 

Disclaimer: Articles designated as “Review” represent the views, opinions, and recommendations of the author, not the 2023-2024 Periscope staff, CHS/CASD administration, or the CHS student body. 

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About the Contributors
Scarlett Learned
Scarlett Learned, Staff Writer
Scarlett is a senior at Carlisle High School and is very excited to begin her first year as a member of the Periscope staff. She is a dancer at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and spends most of her time focusing on ballet. She loves performing various ballets each year and looks forward to the local productions CPYB puts on including works that she has previously choregraphed. Outside of the ballet studio, she enjoys listening to music, reading and writing, and hanging out with her friends and family.
Laura Sands
Laura Sands, Staff Writer
Laura Sands is a junior and she’s excited for her first year in Periscope. Outside of school Laura enjoys reading, writing, music, and playing with her dogs and cats. You may also see her on the Coffeehouse stage.  
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