Thanhhà Lại, author of National Book Award-winning and Newbery Honor Book Inside Out & Back Again, introduces readers to 12-year-old Mai in her new middle grade novel, Listen, Slowly. Mai, a California beach girl, is not happy when her parents tell her this summer she must travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to seek answers regarding what happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. As soon as they arrive, Mai is overwhelmed by all the distant relatives she has never met, local customs completely foreign to her, and mosquitoes that are eating her alive.
Constantly worried that her best “friend” back home is stealing the boy Mai has a crush on, Mai wishes for her grandmother to find answers quickly so they can return home. As time goes on and Mai adjusts to the customs and makes new friends, she discovers her life back home and life here have more similarities than she first realized, and she learns to appreciate the differences.
While this coming-of-age story has strong themes of true friendship and an appreciation for cultural differences, it maintains a light and often humorous tone throughout. There are laugh out loud situations, and Mai’s voice is incredibly endearing. At the same time, we see Mai truly grow. At the start of the book she is entirely motivated by her own wishes, but throughout the book her capacity for empathy increases and she learns the joy in helping others. The combination of serious issues, humor, and a dash of mystery will make this story a winner among many upper elementary school students.
This book provides a lens through which kids can travel all the way to another country! Whether readers know a lot or very little about Vietnam, they will enjoy falling in love with the country, the culture, and Mai. Kids will be inspired to either seek out more information or find other books which allow them to travel and learn. Since Listen, Slowly takes place in the summer, it is the perfect read for kids counting down to their own summer vacation!
You can place a hold on the book in the Deerfield Public Library catalog right now. If you have to wait, be sure to check out “You Might Also Like These…” at the bottom of the catalog page.