Four female – one male protagonist. The settings: London, San Francisco, Vietnam, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Together they make up the five finalists for this year’s Middle Grade Fiction Cybils Awards. Each day this week I’ll have a review of each title:
- Monday: THE BLACKTHORN KEY
- Tuesday: BOOK SCAVENGER
- Wednesday: FOOTER DAVIS PROBABLY IS CRAZY
- Thursday: BLACKBIRD FLY
- Friday: LISTEN, SLOWLY (Today’s featured Finalist)
The best news is you can win a giveaway of all five hardback books by making a comment on any or all of those days (up to five entries). I’ll draw the name this Sunday (Feb. 21) at 6 pm EST. Good luck!
This story told from the eyes of 12-year-old, Mai, is set in present day Vietnam. Mai is all about the beach life she enjoys in Laguna, California. That is until her parents (a successful lawyer mom and a doctor father) push her into accompanying a grandmother to Vietnam where grandma hopes to discover what happened to her husband, Mai’s grandfather, during the war long ago.
Mai struggles fitting in with the new culture and longs to return home to discover what HIM is doing, a boy she likes. She’s in a pre-teen funk most of the book but slowly comes to accept the reasons she is away, helping her grandmother. I had trouble connecting with her, but the journey through Vietnam, experiencing the people, their unique food and customs was quite rewarding for someone like me with little knowledge of this country.
Once again, boys won’t be flocking to this one, but be assured there will be plenty of other readers to take this very unusual ride.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2015 WORD COUNT: 62,059 LEVEL: 5.3
FULL PLOT (From AMAZON) A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, 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.
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: LISTEN, SLOWLY by Thanhhà Lại
- Her grandmother’s thoughts are prevalent throughout the story and bring insights into how hard it was never having closure concerning her missing husband. They are a bit harder to read in italics but rewarding just the same.
- This is not a droll travelogue but instead a witty, often funny, often sad journey through a country whose history is riddled with war.
- Very accurate middle grade voice coming out of Mai. Not all girls in the U.S. are like her thank goodness, but you’ll smile at some of the similarities.
- The supporting cast in Vietnam are each fascinating characters. Ut, her new sort of friend, and Anh Minh, her translator, bring their own fascinating backgrounds and provide heart to the story.
- Mai pretends to not know any Vietnamese, when in fact she understands quite a bit. This brings many comical results to her conversations.
FAVORITE LINES: My parents should be thanking the Buddha for a daughter like me: a no-lip gloss, no-short shorts twelve-year-old rocking a 4.0 GPA and an STA-ish vocab who is team leader in track, science, and chess. I should at least be able to spend the summer resting my brain at the beach. Instead, I get shoved on a predawn flight.
AUTHOR QUOTE: I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, immigrated to Montgomery, Alabama after the war in 1975 and currently live north of New York City. Most importantly, I’ve started a not-for-profit organization called Viet Kids Inc. to buy bicycles for poor students in Vietnam. (For more information about this project and about Thahnna, visit her website.
Make a comment if you have time as you could win all five Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Finalists. You’ll find the comment link below.