Posted in Book, Book Review, Middle Readers, Reading

LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhhà Lai


Mai is twelve and has high hopes to spend her summer vacation on a nearby California beach with her friends, including a certain boy…expressed as “HIM” throughout.  But her family has a different idea for Mai.  She and her father are to take her grandmother, Bà, to Việt Nam, possibly for a short visit, possibly much longer.

Bà’s husband, Ông, never returned from the Việt Nam War where he was held captive as a POW.  A detective has found a guard who had been with Ông in the Prisoner of War camp.

Bà has need for closure after all of these years have passed since flight from her home country to California with her children and without her husband and since the war ended.

As Listen, Slowly begins, Mai certainly does not want to be going to Việt Nam.

This story is about relationships between family members, between friends.  It is about caring for others over oneself, about respect, and about country whether it is your country or your parents’ or your grandparents’.

Bà is old, yet she is wise.  She loves her family, her village in Việt Nam, and her home of Sài Gòn.  She misses Ông terribly.  Bà is given a special trip into the tunnel where Ông had been kept captive with the guard where she finds a message on a wall.  It was written by Ông, allowing Bà to have a sense of peace and to know closure with Ông.  Bà shares, Fate did not grant him the privilege to see our children reach adulthood or the pleasure to witness our wrinkles writing stories on our faces, but in the time we were allowed, we knew our treasure. 

Family and friends find room in Việt Nam to be with one another, listening to hearts and not just to words.  Bà says to Mai:  I tell you of loss, my child, so you will listen, slowly, and know that in life every emotion is fated to rear itself within your being.  Don’t judge it proper or ugly.  It’s simply here and yours.  Learning to listen, listening…slowly, is a beautiful lesson for all.

Mai returns to California a bit more grown up, cherishing her special relationship with her grandmother.

Just as Inside Out and Back Again is a unique and special story by Thanhhai Lai, this second book of hers is one as well.  Tangling, untangling, and weaving people and places together makes this an especially fine story.  Learning more about the Vietnamese culture broadens my perspective on a people who have endured much from many.

Age Range: 8 – 12 Years


A New York Times Book Review Notable Book

A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year


Thanhhà Lai fled Việt Nam during the Việt Nam War. She was relocated in Alabama, USA.  She attended college at the University of Texas, Austin, graduating with a degree in journalism.  For two years, beginning in 1988, Ms. Lai worked for the Orange County, California, The Register newspaper, covering Little Saigon, the local Vietnamese community.  She went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from New York University.  Thanhhà Lai settled in New York City, where she taught at Parsons, The New School for design.  She can be found @




Book Information

ISBN-13: 9780062229199
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers 
Edition description: Reprint
Publication date: 05/17/2016
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.80(d)