Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 17th 2015 by HarperCollins
Source: Library (but I really really really need my own copy!)
A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.
- This book is incredible.
- I thought that sentence would grab your attention. Did it?
- Is your attention grabbed?
- Okay, let’s get talking about this book then.
- Mai is a twelve year old and twelve year olds are generally the most annoying ever unless they are three year olds with whom I have very close experience (I’m looking at you, Zara) (my niece).
- Anyway, Mai has to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam and she protests all the way through.
- Because there is a guy she wants and he’ll be at the beach with her man-eating best friend.
- My first thought? Isn’t 12 a bit too young for boys? But then again, it has been a looooong time since I was 12 so I dunno.
- My second thought? Gosh, Mai is annoying.
- Still, Yash loved this book so I continued with it and sigh.
- I think a 12 year old was the perfect lens through which we view this journey.
- Everything is new for her. She questions incessantly and is intentionally or unintentionally unkind but never cruel.
- Mai’s experiences in Vietnam are those to whom everything is entirely new and this works in favour of readers to whom Vietnam is completely strange. We discover Mai’s fascination with water buffalo, her first impressions of the village, and the unique place she inhabits being a child of two cultures.
- Mai’s voice is very young and to the older reader, sometimes abrasive but when juxtaposed with the sweetness and beauty of Mai’s grandma’s voice, that is the language she uses, the narrative becomes balanced. Mai’s youth and Bà‘s wisdom are two weights on a scale and balance it out perfectly.
- My favourite character was Út, Mai’s owner, who has a pet frog she brought up and whose aim in life is to become a naturalist or someone who works with nature. Despite being so different from each other, Mai and Út form a (somewhat reluctant) friendship. Út helps Mai discover aspects of herself and Viet Nam (as is the proper way of saying it, I think) that she wouldn’t have alone.
- There are other characters, notably Anh Minh, a boy not much older than Mai who translates for her because her Vietnamese isn’t up to par with everyone else. And the aunt who makes a mean face mask and another who helps Mai (though help might be pushing it? bullies?) Mai into sewing etc.
- Anh Minh’s passion for Vietnamese language is fun and his indignation at Mai’s lack of appreciation for the diacritical mark was endearing and very informative.
- It’s the little details that makes Listen, Slowly so wonderful. I was actually homesick for Fiji reading it.
- Mai also discovers different facets to Bà who has been waiting forever for news of her husband who was captured by enemies during the war. It’s beautiful to witness Mai discovering the girl her grandmother must have been, the woman she must have been before life changed her so much.
- War will always be a tremendously difficult topic and wounds never heal. Lai draws Mai and her family’s last moments with what remains of her grandfather beautifully.
- The novel is rich in colour, experience, noise and love.
- I loved it.
- You will too.