Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Listen, Slowly 513tozBfREL__SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Listen, Slowly

Thanhha Lai, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Feb. 17, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Vietnam, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture-shock, Diversity, Intergenerational relationships, Family relationships, Respect, Friendship, Vietnam War, History

Synopsis: Mai is a 12-year-old California girl eager to spend her summer vacation at the beach with her best friends. Instead, her Vietnamese parents have planned her summer for her. They want Mai to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam so she can meet a man who may provide her answers to her husband’s disappearance during the war and find some closure. Her parents also want Mai to learn more about her own roots, meet relatives and develop some bonds. Mai barely understands the language. Trapped in a remote village, Mai must find a balance between her two different worlds if she has any hopes of surviving Vietnam.

Why I like this book:

  • Thanhha Lai beautifully crafted a love story between a granddaughter and her grandmother, as they travel to Vietnam together. It is a powerful intergenerational novel for teens.  It is richly textured, emotional, honest and humorous.
  • Lai skillfully shows Vietnam as a land of many contrasts. Her setting is very realistic of Vietnam today.  Lai’s writing touches all the senses so that the reader smells, hears, sees, and feels the unforgiving heat, heavy rain, sticky moisture, nasty mosquito bites, pungent smells, toxic fumes, noises and seas of mopeds on the overcrowded streets of Hanoi.
  • This is touching character-driven story. Mai (Mia) is a head-strong, outspoken, humorous and compassionate protagonist. In the beginning, Mai’s constantly plotting her trip out of Vietnam. Every angry/whiny text message to her mother begins with “I want to come home.” As she settles into the gentle pace of life surrounding her, it is a joy to watch Mai deal with the culture shock and mature. She’s a trooper and her challenges turn into acceptance of her doting family and surroundings. Mai’s fragile grandmother has clung to the old ways and is proper. She is patient, tender, quiet-spoken. Her family is surprised by her strong resolve to track down important leads that may reveal the truth of her husband’s death. Mai’s cousin, Ut, is the complete opposite of Mai. She wears a buzz haircut, crumpled pants and t-shirts, and hangs out with her frogs. They become partners in crime that lead to many hilarious moments.
  • The plot is multi-layered, complicated, courageous and hopeful. Lai delves deeply into Mai’s loneliness, the shock of living in an unfamiliar culture and the courage that it takes for her to handle a difficult situation. There are unexpected surprises and a realistic and satisfying ending.
  • I enjoyed learning about modern Vietnam. The story is so detailed that it feels like you are walking with Mai as she experiences the homeland of her family. I loved this story.

Thanhha Lai is the author of the Newbery Honor and National Book Award-winning Inside Out & Back Again. Click [here] to read my review. She was born in Vietnam and now lives with her family in New York. Visit Lai at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

30 thoughts on “Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

  1. Pat, This sounds like an extremely moving story. I love that you noted it touches on all of the senses. Will add this one to my list. Thanks so much for reviewing the book.


    • Yes, Mai whines in the beginning, but it is fascinating how she begins to settle into the slower pace of life with her relatives. Can’t imagine the culture shock. Glad Mai won you over in the end.


    • That’s a major reason I was so intrigued by Thanhha’s novel. I haven’t read many novels that delve so deeply into everyday life of Vietnam. I loved the author’s first book Inside Out & Back Again. Great summer read for teens.


  2. I loved Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again–simply adored it–so this one has been on my list for awhile..but I’d forgotten it was there. Thanks for reminding me–I’m bumping it up!


  3. I love stories that take place in another part of the world. Seeing it through the eyes of a young person, especially one who doesn’t want to be there would be excellent. I also like the generational aspect. This is going on my TBR list. Thanks so much!


  4. I have had this on my list for a while to read. Thanks for the reminder. I knew many Vietnamese when I lived in France.


  5. I was unsure about verse novels before reading the author’s previous title Inside Out and Back Again – I never thought of myself as a poetry person, and didn’t think I would enjoy a verse novel. But wow – both of these books are absolutely breathtaking. So much emotion packed into just a few well-chosen words. Incredible stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am pleased you enjoyed both Lai’s books as much as I did. They are both beautiful in different ways. I think I love Listen, Slowly the most as it was such a reversal of an Americanized teen going back to the home of her family and experiencing such culture shock.


  6. I also liked this book very much. I read it for the Cybils this year and was so glad to be able to do that. I really felt like I saw a positive side of Vietnam rather than what we usually hear about it and the terrible war fought there. Thanks for sharing this great book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for visiting. Listen, Slowly is a beautiful story. It does show a positive, personal side of Vietnam. It’s sad to think we fought a war there and how many innocent lives were impacted.


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