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Monday, June 26, 2017

Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Listen, SlowlyAll twelve-year old Mai wants to do is spend her summer on the beaches of Laguna, California, with her friends and HIM.  That's all, not much to ask.  Instead she finds herself on a plane to Vietnam along with her grandmother and father.

The reason for the trip is so her grandmother (Ba) can finally find closure after losing her husband decades before in the Vietnam War, having never been given the chance to give him a burial.  Mai's father, a doctor, will be spending a large part of his time away from them, performing surgery to repair cleft palates in the remote mountain villages of the country.  Although Mai has a fairly good grasp of the language (a fact she doesn't share with the people she meets,) she knows very little about the culture and customs of Vietnam.  She does know a lot about traditional Vietnamese food, and boy, does it sound yummy! She struggles with not being able to do things she takes for granted at home - like charging her phone or having even a little bit of privacy.

As the story unfolds, Mai reluctantly becomes acquainted with the people of her grandmother's village, her "maybe-relatives," and also makes some new friends along the way.  Throughout the story Mai is constantly fighting an internal battle between the love and respect she has for her family, and her desire to get back to California and leave Vietnam far behind.  In the end, Mai learns some very valuable lessons about herself and her family.

This book, written in first person, is very funny at times (the embroidery lesson is hilarious), but is also heartbreaking at other times.  Mai has some exciting adventures with her new friend Ut, but also must suffer through boredom, extreme heat, and the never-ending buzz of the relentless mosquitoes.

If you like learning about far-off places and their cultures, you'll probably like this realistic book.  Before you start reading Listen, Slowly, take a look at the map of  Vietnam at the very beginning.  It will help you understand the places the story takes you.

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