Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

Books like this are the entire reason I love the Read Harder Challenge. I picked this one up for task 20, a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the US or UK. This book takes place in Viet Nam. It’s about a 12 year old Vietnamese American girl who goes back to Viet Nam with her father and grandmother.

Though a bit predictable by my age, I love this story. Like our protagonist, Mia, I’m also a part of the first generation to be born in the US on my mother’s side of the family. I have wished for a time when I can make a similar journey. Obviously my journey would be different going to a different country at a different age with almost no one left in Cuba, but I found myself a little jealous. It’s a big part of the child of an immigrant/refugee story to want to eventually want to go back and see where our parents came from.

They lose a piece of who they are when they come to the US and it’s hard for people to understand. It’s hard for us in the first generation to bridge that gap between understanding what the family went through to get here and their yearning for the lives they wanted before whatever drove them here. I know I saw a mourning for the lives they should have had in my family and it’s in this story too.

Mia learns about her family, what it cost to move to the US and what it would have cost to stay. She gets a glimpse of the dream of hope before the war. More than that, she gets to put together pieces of who parents and grandparents are and understand that they don’t so much have eccentricities as much as survival skills. I also have a soft spot for books where a character explores another culture, which adds another layer of fun to this one. Mia doesn’t know anything about her parent’s culture at the onset of the book.

Mia can be a little hard to get used to at first, but her growth is a big part of the story. Even though it’s expected, it’s not completely in the ways that I expected, which was fun.

I don’t normally read middle grade books, so I wouldn’t have come across this beautiful story without Read Harder. It’s a beautiful story that I’d love to read with my son in the not too distant future. Add Listen Slowly to your Goodreads or Litsy TBR!

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