cover image Listen, Slowly

Listen, Slowly

Thanhhà Lai. Harper, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-222918-2

All high-achieving 12-year-old Mai wants is to hang out at home in Laguna Beach with her best friend and her crush-that-shall-not-be-named: “This is the summer I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” she explains. Instead, she is forced to accompany her father and her grandmother (Bà) to Vietnam to determine whether her grandfather (Ông) might still be alive. (He disappeared during “THE WAR,” as Mai thinks of it, and has long been presumed dead.) Mai’s self-interested annoyance gives way to fascination as she becomes swept up in her Vietnamese heritage, helps find out what happened to Ông, befriends a headstrong girl named Út, and enjoys a deepening relationship with Bà. As she did in her National Book Award–winning Inside Out & Back Again, Lai offers a memorable heroine and cultural journey—ones that are clever near-opposites of those in that book, as Lai trades verse for prose and an immigrant’s story for one of a girl fully immersed in American culture. The story capably stands on its own, yet considered alongside Inside Out, it’s all the more rewarding. Ages 8–12. Agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Feb.)