Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

Publisher’s description

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

Amanda’s thoughts

First thing first: figure out where you will order some Vietnamese food from before you even start reading. We are not much on eating out/takeout, in general, and have only had takeout maybe 4 times this whole pandemic, but after reading this, I’m going to need us to get some phở.

Linh Mai and Bảo Nguyễn are in the same grade at the same school and spend most of their time across the street from each other at their respective families’ restaurants, but haven’t spoken since they were children. If your families are lifelong enemies, there’s not much room for friendship. But when Bảo finds an upset Linh hiding out in the alley one day, everything changes. They start to hang out, a little, tentatively. They begin working on a project together for the school newspaper, reviewing area restaurants. And, to the surprise of no one, they begin to fall for each other. Sneaking around and lying isn’t great for a relationship, but how can they tell their families they’re together? As they begin to uncover some of the reasons for the rancor between the families, the odds of them working out grow even slimmer.

At the core, this is a romance, but there is so much depth to both of their individual stories. Both lead busy lives deeply enmeshed with their parents’ lives and expectations. Both are trying to figure out what they want to do beyond high school. For Linh, it’s a question of how she could possibly pursue art, her passion, while knowing her parents want her to be an engineer, a nice stable career path with plenty of security. For Bảo it’s working to figure out what he wants to do, period. They juggle work, school, and the many expectations from their parents while also maintaining friendships, pursuing goals, and figuring out if being together is worth the drama.

With a heavy focus on families, history, expectations, and secrets, this love story will leave readers satisfied. Except for the actual hunger part—readers will be left literally hungry. I’m not kidding that you should figure out where to order food BEFORE you start reading.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534441934
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 02/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio

Publisher’s description

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Amanda’s thoughts

I loved Gregorio’s first book, None of the Above, and have been waiting to see what she would do next. When this book showed up, along with a letter about the importance of happy books about mental illness, I rearranged my reading schedule (a literal printed out schedule right now, as I write this review, as schools are closed and I’m home with far more unstructured time than I’ve had in years) to read this right away. And I loved it.

Chinese American Jocelyn lives in Utica, New York and is finally used to life there versus her old life in the city. So when she learns that her family’s restaurant is struggling and that they may have to closed up and move, she takes it upon herself to help the business thrive. That is A LOT for a high school junior to take on. She puts out an ad for help wanted to grow the business and give them a social media presence, and Will answers it. Nigerian American Will goes to a local private school and brings lots of skills to the table. Before long, the two are not just working on the business together, but falling for each other. But it’s complicated. Jos’s dad doesn’t want them dating for a variety of reasons, both teens deal with insecurities and mental health issues that interfere with their communications and interactions, and the pressure to save an entire business looms large.

Will starts to notice Jos seems like she has depression. He has generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. He’s been in therapy for years, which is great, but he’s not medicated, which is not great because his symptoms seem to need something else other than CBT for him to thrive. He’s wary of medication for all of the classic reasons, but also because his ob-gyn mother seems wary of medication. Jos is slowly growing more miserable, drowning under the pressure of the restaurant and clearly depressed. She is into Will be also appears to resent him—-she feels he’s more successful than she is (better grades etc). She begins to feel like she has to watch her mood around him because of how aware he is of her changing moods. She wonders if she has to appear happy for him to be happy.

I loved this story for how very real it was. Not everyone is having open conversations at home about mental health. Not everyone who is being treated is getting the full spectrum of what they could to help them feel their best. One thing that everyone is doing, however, is still living complicated, multifaceted lives that have a lot more going on than just trying to address any one thing. While this is a romance, and the story of children of immigrants juggling multiple cultures, norms, and expectations, it’s also a very affecting and complex exploration of mental health. Jos and Will’s story is warm and supportive, even when things get all mixed up. A smart story that shows that while people don’t fix people, they can support them, and that may lead to getting help. Gregorio makes it clear that not only is getting help okay, asking for help is good, too. Highly recommended.

Review copy (finished book) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316423823
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 04/14/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years