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)


I am a quiet woman growing each day in the LORD. Christ is my home. He is the well from which I drink. I became His 25 years ago. I am 73 so that is actually a small percentage of my life through which I could have walked closely with Him. No matter, He never stopped waiting for me. I am now a widow from a Christ-centered marriage of 25 years to Kenneth. I praise God for him. I miss him so. We had no children. I feel God’s call to be His light in this dark world. I am grateful for the love God gives to me so I may give it away. I live in Lufkin, Texas, USA (in Deep East Texas/Pineywoods). I have taught Women’s Sunday School/Bible Study, co-administrated/taught a teen girls’ annual conference. I participate in women’s Bible studies in church as well as on my own. I am a retired elementary school teacher, having taught in California, Washington, D.C., and have taught older children and adults in Oregon and Texas. I also retired from being a children’s librarian in the public library system, a job I thoroughly loved. I tutored primary-aged children who are falling behind in those early years of school until we moved in May 2017.

20 thoughts on “LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhhà Lai

  1. This sounds like an excellent read, but also very heavy. I also think it is wonderful to get to know more about other cultures. Thanks for sharing this wonderful review with #SocialButterflySunday! Hope to see you link up again this week 🙂


  2. My daughter read these a few weeks ago but hasn’t really shared much with me of what she thought of them. Thanks for this reminder to ask her. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on!


  3. This book seems like it would be a great introduction to the Vietnam War for my son. He is now at the age where he would gain an even deeper respect for his grandfather if he understood more completely the bitter war that was raging during Papa’s service to the U.S. Army.


    1. Yes, I believe it and her other one…they each stand alone. This one would be more for the war whereas her other one was more about the family’s escape to the United States and the adjustments made from the girl’s perspective. There were aspects of the war there too in the beginning, but for what you want, this one would probably be the better for your son. That’s great to teach him about what his grandfather went through. My husband served in the Vietnam War in the U. S. Army as well. He was there 1968-69 in the Central Highlands in the 101st Airborne/Combat Infantry.


  4. This sounds like a absolutely intriguing read. I am always on the lookout for great books for my daughter and I am certainly adding this one to the list. Thank you for sharing your review on the Kid Lit Blog Hop.


  5. I bought a copy but I haven’t read it yet. It’s moving up to the top of my pile now! Thanks for sharing your great review at the Kid Lit Blog Hop! I really enjoyed her first book but I had read that this one wasn’t as good so it’s good to read more than one opinion!


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