Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Published by HarperCollins 

Summary:  12-year-old Mai thinks her summer is ruined when she learns that, instead of getting to hang out at the beach with her best friend and the boy she has a crush on, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother and father.  Her grandmother has heard from a Vietnamese detective that he may have news of her husband, missing in action since the war.  Vietnam turns out to be hot and sticky, mosquito-infested, and overrun with dozens of relatives who never leave Mai alone.  At first, all she can think about is how to get back to California as fast as possible, but as the summer progresses, she learns more about her family and the country they once lived in.  A cousin with a buzz cut, a pet frog, and an attitude eventually turns into a friend.  Most of all, Mai sees the strength of her grandmother who raised seven children alone and left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon to make sure her children would be safe and successful, and the love between her grandparents that survived their long separation.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A funny coming-of-age novel, a tragic war story, and a love song to Vietnam all rolled into one.  Mai’s voice is perfect, as she slowly matures from a self-centered California girl to a (more or less) compassionate young woman.  I never thought I wanted to visit Vietnam until I read this book.

Cons:  The ending left me wanting more.


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