Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
I’m a huge fan of Thanha Lai’s novel in verse, Inside Out and Back Again, so I was eager to hear about her new novel that was released in the last year. Of course, when you capture lightning in a bottle, it’s impossible to expect the same kind of magic twice. And Listen, Slowly doesn’t quite capture the same magic. Nevertheless, it is a charming story with a distinctive voice and an important message.
Mai (Americanized to Mia when necessary) is a typical California teenager. She has a crush on a boy and worries that he might like her best friend. So naturally the worst thing that can happen is being removed from her typical American life to spend several weeks in Vietnam with her grandmother. Forced to socialize with a cousin who disdains her and separated from all the social media and internet that she’s used to, Mai has to adjust to a Vietnam that her parents barely know and that she herself has no context for. But in the process of trying to grapple with her culture shock, Mai begins to understand the passion that has driven her grandmother—searching for the answers to where her long-dead grandfather disappeared during the Vietnam War.
This book has a lot of humorous moments and a lot of heartfelt ones, as well. It’s a funny and gentle read, certainly something fans of middle-school and young adult literature will enjoy. I think this is a worthy companion to Inside Out and Back Again and other literature about Vietnam from the perspective of Vietnamese immigrants and Vietnamese-American citizens.