Saturday, October 24, 2015

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

13-year-old Mai has big plans for the summer and they don't include escorting her grandmother to Vietnam to solve a 40 year old mystery.   Mai wants to go to the beach and catch the attention of a boy she likes.  Instead she is stuck in a Vietnamese village while her grandmother waits for news of her husband who disappeared during the war.  Although she is Vietnamese by heritage, Mai doesn't know the language or anything about the culture and she can't wait to get home.  In the meantime, she finds ways to entertain herself without much Internet access.  For instance, she teaches the women of the village how to make thong underwear, a garment they soon come to regret.  Mai also begins to remember how close she was to her grandmother when she was younger and eventually begins to appreciate her roots.

I really loved this book.  So often books set in other cultures are meant to SHOW YOU ABOUT THE CULTURE and the story is missing.  This book does show you about Vietnam and how different it is from Mai's world, but it doesn't favor either culture as they both have their merits.  Mai, meanwhile, is a typical American teen, not a saint.  The story shows her growing slowly and realistically but she doesn't completely abandon who she is.  There is warmth and humor a plenty in this book.