At the start of the narrative, Luong Ung is a confident, happy, and clever child, the second youngest in a middle-class family in Phnom Penh. She is aware of class differences but focuses her interests more on her own life than on political forces. Despite Pa’s attempted assassination, the arrival of the Khmer Rouge surprises her, and grasping the implications is one of her first challenges. She struggles to understand why the new regime wants to harm her family. One of Luong’s defining traits is a tendency to ask many questions, and she peppers her father with queries, although his answers do little to satisfy her.  

Under the iron yoke of the Khmer Rouge, Luong learns brutal lessons with major implications for her character. Once inquisitive, she increasingly cloaks herself in silence, hiding her thoughts and her past from the people around her. Once confident, she now becomes afraid and suspicious of others. She is sometimes jealous of her younger sister, Geak, and wishes she could be the recipient of Ma’s focused attention. Most importantly, Luong is full of an incandescent rage at the Khmer Rouge. Finding a way to manage these powerful feelings is one of her chief challenges. This is complicated by her tendency to confuse anger for strength, and her certainty that rage is the only way to survive.  

Luong faces several moral challenges throughout her ordeal. For example, extreme hunger drives her to steal rice from the family’s limited supply, and she suffers in a different way for her actions. She believes that Pa, whom she looks to for guidance and support, knows she is the thief but still cannot admit her selfish behavior. It torments her to think his opinion of her is diminished, and she becomes even more withdrawn as a result, even punishing her siblings for her own misdeed. When she attends a Khmer Rouge soldier’s execution, she also grapples with the morality associated with the Killing Fields. She hates the nameless soldier and cannot quite pity his fate, but she realizes that his death does nothing to undo her loss.