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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: The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The Magic Fish

Publisher’s description

Tiến loves his family and his friends…but Tiến has a secret he’s been keeping from them, and it might change everything. An amazing YA graphic novel that deals with the complexity of family and how stories can bring us together.

Real life isn’t a fairytale. 

But Tiến still enjoys reading his favorite stories with his parents from the books he borrows from the local library. It’s hard enough trying to communicate with your parents as a kid, but for Tiến, he doesn’t even have the right words because his parents are struggling with their English. Is there a Vietnamese word for what he’s going through? 

Is there a way to tell them he’s gay? 

A beautifully illustrated story by Trung Le Nguyen that follows a young boy as he tries to navigate life through fairytales, an instant classic that shows us how we are all connected. The Magic Fish tackles tough subjects in a way that accessible with readers of all ages, and teaches us that no matter what—we can all have our own happy endings.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m writing this on November 6th, in the morning, before we know the election results. Here’s why this is significant: concentrating this week has been HARD. I have accomplished a great many tasks like washing my windows, doing yard work, and whatever else keeps me in perpetual motion and makes my anxiety motor rev a little slower. But I haven’t been able to read much. And I certainly didn’t intend to try to write anything for TLT this week. And yet, here I am. Why? Because this book is lovely and wonderful and special and, apparently, magic. It held my attention (I read it in one sitting), it made me cry, and it’s just SO good that I had to share it here.

This book is beautiful in every sense of the word and in every aspect of its presentation. The art is dynamic and full of detail, the shifting color palette works so well, the writing is spectacular, and the emotional heart of the story is stunning. Is this just a list of gushing love and appreciation instead of an actual professional-sounding book review? YES.

Tiến’s story is also beautiful. He and his family (especially his mother, who gets her own emotional and powerful story) spend their time together reading fairytales as a way to connect, share, and, for his parents, to work on their English. He has two best friends, one of whom he has a crush on, and they are so supportive and loving and kind. While Tiến is worried about coming out to his parents, readers don’t have to share that worry: we see the love and the support.

This is a story about immigrants, about shared language and connection, about a life left behind, about fitting in, about family, about being yourself, and about love. Tiến learns about the power of stories, about happy endings, about stories changing when they need to. The book ended abruptly but perfectly, leaving me crying and wishing everyone had the love and support Tiến has.

Also? This book has THE BEST dance scene. My heart. You’ll see when you read it. WHEN you read it.

Beautiful and moving, this book will stick with me. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. Go add it to your library queue or order it from your local indie now.

ISBN-13: 9781984851598
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years