Listen, Slowly

by Thanhha Lai

At 12, Mia planned to spend every day of summer at the beach with friends. Instead,... read more

At 12, Mia planned to spend every day of summer at the beach with friends. Instead, she’s a reluctant traveler to Vietnam with her grandma. Mia loves Ba but is unhappy about going and makes sure her father, traveling with them, and her mother, still at home, know it. Mia’s grandfather, Ong, was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese during the war and has been missing since Mia’s father was two. Ba and her seven children fled the country two days before the fall of Saigon. Now a detective has found the man who guarded Ong, and Ba holds out hope that her husband might still be alive. At least that’s what Mia thinks. Mia narrates in a voice full of snarky irreverence. She meets her match in her feisty, frog-loving, science-minded cousin named Ut, although neither girl reveals that she understands the other’s native language. Despite her resentment, Mia finds more and more it is the place and people around her who matter in the moment rather than the friends she left behind. Thanhhà Lai’s storytelling moves from a rural village to the bustling city and back, following characters that are complex and vividly drawn. Even Ong, met only through Ba’s stories, feels alive, making it even more painful as Mia realizes Ba has come to say goodbye. A novel full of humor offers a deep exploration of the ways family, culture, and language impact who we are and how we perceive and experience the world. (Ages 10–13)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2016

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