Synopsis: 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.
Huge thank you to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for this ARC!
Wow. This book is beautiful. And if y’all want diverse books, this is one to add to the list and try out. Mai (or Mia in the USA) is a 1st generation Vietnamese, American born, California girl. Her Grandmother and parents (as children) fled Vietnam after the war, and she’s wholly American. She’s just turned 12 and has the beach and boys on the brain. But her father drags her to Vietnam for the summer to help her Grandmother put her missing Grandfather to rest.
Now, if you know me, you know that I just spent seven years in Japan. While I am not Japanese, I do have experience leaving my own culture and experiencing a new one. I connected with Mai on this… she doesn’t really consider herself to be Vietnamese, and she doesn’t know much about her parents & grandmother’s home country. And boy oh boy does she not want to go. She wants to stay home and flirt with boys and make sure her BFF (now with boobs!) doesn’t steal the boy she has a crush on.
But away they go and wow, does Mai ever whine about the trip. I know she’s 12, and my only real complaint about this book is that her voice is SO MUCH OLDER than her actual maturity. I kept forgetting that she was only 12 a times, and when she’d speak or think and sounds SO mature and then throw herself on a bed and have a tantrum… I just had trouble with that. I do think that’s she’s more mature than most 12 year olds because her parents are both well off (Mom’s a lawyer, dad’s a Doctor) and her mother is constantly thrusting SAT words on her (she talks about it a lot in the story). There were times I wanted to shake Mai and tell her to stop being a brat. But she does grow and mature and I think even grow into her voice.
I loved the setting. I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I could totally relate to things like the heat, the food, the different customs (especially the sun masks and trying to stay pale in the summer!) because they were similar to things I’ve experienced in Japan. I also liked that Mai could totally understand Vietnamese by listening, but was horrible at speaking (I’m the same way with Japanese). I really loved how she slowly came to terms with being there, and even started to fall in love with the country.
This is a slow read and while it’s supposed to be MG, I think that younger readers will have to be patient with reading this. I actually think that adults would enjoy this a lot more, and it definitely fits well in the YA crowd. The writing is rich, the descriptions make you feel like you’re there, and the relationships between the characters are so touching. I loved how important family was, and how the main love story was between the grandmother and her dead/missing husband.