Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
If you saw my post about my favorite books of the year so far, this one will look familiar, and the fact that I’m about to gush over it will be no surprise. Lai is a new discovery for me this year, and I first read her book Inside Out and Back Again. As a Newbery Honor book and National Book Award winner, it’s no surprise that the book is FANTASTIC.
Could her new title Listen, Slowly live up to the high standards she’d set?
Happily, yes. While it’s a very different book (written in prose instead of verse, set in contemporary Vietnam, instead of historical Vietnam and the US), it’s still a beautifully written and captivating story. She brings Vietnam to life, and compels you to both continue reading, and care about all the individuals you meet.
I loved how well she differentiated the relatives. It would have been easy for them to become merely a group of extended family (kind of how they are when Mai first arrives), but most of them quickly become individuals.
The book is perfect for middle schoolers or high schoolers, and easily enjoyable by adults as well. Super sensitive readers might have a bit of trouble with some details at the very end, but I don’t want to share specifics for risk of spoilers. Ask me if you’re concerned with appropriateness for your kids and I’ll fill you in. Another possible concern for those with really strict standards on what they allow is that Mai is thinking about one boy quite a bit, and frets about her figure slightly (she’s not the curvy supposed American-ideal). Nothing is detailed, and it felt very accurate for her age. It also all ends up resolving nicely, if that makes a difference.
This could also work very well as a discussion book if you’re looking for one to read with your kids. Topics addressed include the obvious ones of family and history, but it also touches on friendships, prioritization, Americanization, travel, war, culture, food, and more.
Highly recommended, and do also read her other book, Inside Out and Back Again.
This remarkable novel from Thanhhà Lại, New York Times bestselling author of the National Book Award–winning and Newbery Honor Book Inside Out & Back Again, follows a young girl as she learns the true meaning of family.
A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.
Perfect for fans of Rita Williams-Garcia and Linda Sue Park, Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.
Title: Listen, Slowly
Author: Thanhha Lai
Category: Juvenile Fiction
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
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