Happy Tuesday, everyone!
This is normally a MMGM post, but we took yesterday off. :) So it's being posted today!
We're reviewing the wonderful Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai. It's an exquisite, gem of a novel about family and finding yourself, which I think all readers will absolutely fall in love with.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 17th 2015 by HarperCollins
Format read: ARC via Publisher
I started the book with a certain degree of curiosity and fairly high expectations, because: 1) I've been looking for a good book with an Asian protagonist for quite some time now, and 2) Thanhhai Lai's writng had been praised by several trusted friends - including Favorite Librarian.
But I still wasn't ready for just how lovely Listen, Slowly turned out to be. Thanhhai introduces us to Mai, a typical California girl, who wants to spend her vacation at the beach, doing normal teenager things. But she's asked to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam, who's on a quest to find out just what happened to her husband.
While Listen, Slowly is very much centered around the idea of the quest (e.g. the quest of finding a long-lost loved one; the quest of finding answers) it's also a book about a girl who begins to find herself. As Mai journeys from California to Vietnam, learning about her family along the way, Lai shows Mai slowly beginning to realize just what kind of legacy she comes from, and what she stands to learn from it.
Mai sees past her external differences with her grandmother and her parents, to realize that deep down, they're all people who want the same things. They're after love, understanding and respect, and it's for those reasons, her grandmother is so determined to find out what has happened to her husband. It's a beautiful moment of kinship between multiple generations of the family, which I think that readers of all ages will especially appreciate.
This lesson is further brought home by Mai's concerns about her friend Montana, and the eventual realization that their friendships is not made up of the love or understanding that a person really needs in their life. I appreciated Lai's decision to gradually help Mai realize that she doesn't need Montana's approval to find strength in herself; it's both an important and a timely lesson, for readers especially of that age group.
All in all, Lai's writing is breathtakingly beautiful as she brings us along Mai's journey. She sprinkles the book with vivid imagery of hot summer beach days in California and humdi mornings in Vietnam, showing us that sometimes, it's easier to bridge the differences between two worlds than originally realized. And while she concludes the book with an ending that isn't necessarily the happiest of endings, it's one that shows just how far all the characters have come - a fitting end for all.
Mai's journey from being a California girl with no desire to spend any time with her family, to someone who truly, truly gets the the genesis of her heritage, is one that is beautifully told. This isn't just a journey about a young girl who has her eyes opened; it's also a strong reminder that there are things about our families and our heritage that many of us won't necessarily understand, until we've been put into the same situation.
I highly recommend this book for readers who are looking for diverse themes, but also for readers who are looking for strong, well-written books about the power of family. Thanhha La involves famillal love in a way that will hit you deeply, regardless of age.