February 17, 2015
Listen, Slowly is a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year! This remarkable and bestselling novel from Thanhha Lai, 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, 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.
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This was a quite fascinating look at what life is like in Vietnam, and the family's connection to the country is explored in interesting ways. When an author is able to give a very detailed description of the food, traditions, and lifestyle of another country, it's not only interesting, but information. Young readers, many of whom have never been outside their own state, can learn a lot from such books.
I loved that Mai was irritated with her parents and grandmother even though she loves them dearly and knows they are good people-- that quality of being so irritated that one flops down on a bed and screams into a pillow is so uniquely middle grade, and made this story extremely relateable. Also adding to the appeal for middle grade readers was the small side story on Mai's relationship with her friend Montana, and her concern that Montana would gain the affection of a boy she liked.
Reader who like to read books that let them travel from their armchairs, such as Krishnaswami's The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (India), Lin's Dumpling Days or the Students Across the Seven Seas series will delight in this opportunity to not only travel to Vietnam, but to spend time there with family!
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