Got another middle school read for you all today.
Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai is the story of one families quest for closure. Twelve year old Mai was born in California and grew up on the shores of Laguna Beach. This was going to be her summer; she can go to the beach by herself, hang out with her best friend and maybe even talk to HIM. But all of this changes when Mai finds herself on a plane to Vietnam with her father and grandmother.
Mai is stuck taking care of her grandmother while her father travels into the heart of Vietnam to do aid work. Mai and Ba travel to Ba’s village and there they wait. The purpose of this trip is for Ba to find out what really happened to her husband after the Vietnam War and hopefully some closure.
All Mai wants to do is get back to the beach. She’s never really connected with her heritage and adjusting to life in Vietnam proves difficult. The language, the customs, the mosquitoes plague Mai and she selfishly wants Ba to find closure quickly so she can go home. But things don’t go as plan and Mai slowly finds herself acclimatizing to her surroundings–she evens makes a “true friend.”
But finding closure for Ba isn’t going well and Mai must find a way to get answers. Will Ba come to terms with her husbands death? Will Mai embrace a family she never knew she had?
Listen, Slowly is a solid, strong middle school read. We get some history, some culture and a story with lessons that many kids can relate to. This book would actually be an excellent candidate for a middle school book club.
What really drew me to this book was the cover. It is just beautifully done. If I am being honest, I thought it was going to take place down on the bayou not in a small Vietnam village. But still, this cover just captures you.
There were a few things in this book that irked me but more from a, “would that really happen” standpoint. For a realistic fiction, some of the situations seems overblown or exaggerated. I kept thinking, “this doesn’t really happen,” and if I think that imagine what a middle school-er would think.
What this book does well, is the handling of languages. Mai can understand Vietnamese but can’t speak and many of the people she interacts with can understand English but don’t speak it. This barrier of languages, which we see everyday, was very thoughtfully done.
Overall, this was a good middle school read with some definite merit for discussion. It didn’t wow me but it was worth the read.
That’s all for now!