Monday, April 25, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhha Lai

LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhha Lai (Harper, 2015)

What It's About (from Goodreads blurb):
A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, 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.

Opening Lines:
"I whip my head toward the airplane window as soon as Dad scoots into my row. There's nothing to see except clouds and more clouds, but anything is better than looking at his fakey sorry-to-do-this-to-you face."

Things to Love:
Mai/Mia (her parents have given her one name she can use at home and a more anglicized-sounding name for school) is a completely believable teenager--in that everything in life revolves around her. She starts off huffy and snotty (after all, she wants to spend summer on the beach in California, rather than accompanying her grandmother to grandmother's country of origin: Vietnam.) But once in Vietnam, she begins gradually to appreciate the country, through her experience of village life, in a completely believable way, even to making friends with the oddest girl in the village. Listen, Slowly is many things: humorous, insightful, profound. It is about a journey to understanding one's past and one's present by means of listening, slowly.

Thanhha Lai's debut, Inside Out and Back Again, was a powerful novel-in-verse. In my opinion, her first prose work, Listen, Slowly is just as powerful. I loved it.

(Listen, Slowly was a finalist for the Cybils' middle grade section.)

About the Author (from the book jacket):
Thanhha Lai was born in Viet Nam and now lives with her family in New York. Like the father in Listen, Slowly, Thanhha has been buying bicycles for poor children in Viet Nam since 2005. To learn more about Thanhha and her charity, Viet Kids Inc., visit

Thanhha Lai, photographed by An-Lai Omer


  1. Sounds like a great story with the Vietnam theme. I have to admit that the title doesn't draw me in that much.

  2. I absolutely adored this book. Such a great main character and I loved all the details about Vietnam and especially about what foods to eat (or not eat) so you don't get attacked by mosquitoes.

  3. I am a huge fan of Inside Out and Back Again--it's one of those rare books I think everyone should read--so I'm happy to hear you found this one just as powerful. On looking back, I realize it's already on my TBR pile, but I'm bumping it up the stack. Thanks for recommending it, and happy MMGM!


  4. Thanks! I am looking for some good multicultural stories. Bonus: The audiobook is available on Hoopla.

  5. I did enjoy this story though in the early going I tired of Mai's, shall I say... whining. The final 20% of the book helped renew my liking for this MC. Thanks for your thoughts.


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