Saturday, July 30, 2016

Listen, Slowly

I was excited to check out Listen, Slowly, after having loved Inside Out & Back Again. I was surprised to find that this novel was not written in verse and that it is set in modern Vietnam.

Mia was raised by her Vietnamese parents in Laguna Beach, California and is your typical beach girl. But then she has to accompany her grandmother back to Vietnam and she realizes she might not be your average California girl, after all.

There is so much to love about Listen, Slowly. It has a beautiful exploration of Vietnamese culture with a true appreciation for the food, the people, and the language. I love it as an entry point to learning about a new culture from a relatable perspective.

The novel is not without flaws. I think it could have been split into two separate novels and been more appealing to its target audience: middle grade readers. The novel felt overly long and was full of convoluted paragraphs like this, "This is my understanding: if a brain is thinking in English, it's Vietnam; if thinking in Vietnamese, it's Viet Nam. If you learned it as Viet Name first, then your brain will think Viet Nam no matter the language. Unless you learned it as Vietnam and then become superfluent in Vietnamese, then your brain will switch to Viet Name. Unless you learned it as Viet Nam but forgot your first language altogether, then your brain will think Vietnam. Why do I care?" My students wouldn't care and probably would have given up.

I'm eager to continue reading Thanhha Lai's work, I just hope she realizes she will have more chances to write and that she doesn't need to cram it all in one book.

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