Listen, Slowly

Book review by
Angela Zimmerman, Common Sense Media
Listen, Slowly Book Poster Image
Captivating tale of U.S. girl meeting her family in Vietnam.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Offers insight into Vietnamese culture, language, and customs and explores the impact of the Vietnam War in a way young kids can understand.

Positive Messages

Lots of positive messages about the importance of family, love, sacrifice, friendship, and identity. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mia's a very relatable, imperfect narrator, who can be bratty, selfish, and dishonest, but she grows a great deal throughout the book, and readers will admire her clever brashness and good intentions. Among the eclectic mix of characters, there are some excellent role models, including Mia's parents, the kind and selfless Ba, and the studious and hardworking Anh Minh.


Although the accounts of suffering during the Vietnam War remain on the fringes of the story, there are some haunting images of a bombing and some relatively explicit descriptions of a prisoner-of-war experience.


A teen girl flashes her panties to a boy she has a crush on, and there's a bit of preadolescent talk of "boobs," bras, panties, and thongs. 


Mia and Ut go on a shopping excursion in Hanoi, which reveals a bit of what commerce is like in Vietnam -- open-air markets, packed stalls, competing vendors, and bargaining with merchants. Mia spends money freely. The few mentions of brands in the story include iPhone, Facebook, and Tiger Balm.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Listen, Slowly is the second novel by Thanhha Lai, who won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and a Newbery Honor for Inside Out & Back Again. It's told from the point of view of Mia, a 12-year-old Vietnamese American girl whose summer plans at home in Laguna Beach, California, are ruined when her parents force her to accompany her grandmother on a trip to Vietnam. As Mia begrudgingly adjusts to culture shock and gets to know her eclectic extended family, she comes to appreciate her cultural heritage. Listen, Slowly dives into some heavy subject matter about the Vietnam War, including haunting descriptions of a bombing and conditions endured by a prisoner of war. But it's Mia's coming-of-age journey, driven by positive messages about family, friendship, love, and sacrifice, that will really resonate with readers. There isn't much in the way of inappropriate content, but there are some mildly sexually suggestive scenes with older teens and some silly talk about "boobs" and thongs. There's an Audible Audiobook version narrated by Lulu Lam, published by HarperAudio.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMsgg1969CSM October 4, 2018


Our daughter is 9 years old. Why would you think this is appropriate for a 9 yr old Angela Zimmerman???

Disappointed in your professional review for young inno... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byyeetusthatfeetus September 29, 2019

The parent review is tripping

This book is fine for kids 7 and up

What's the story?

Twelve-year-old Mia has been looking forward to a summer spent swimming and sunning in her hometown of Laguna Beach, California. But her plans are ruined when her parents insist she accompany her grandmother Ba on a trip to Vietnam to follow a dubious detective's tip about Mia's grandfather Ong, who disappeared during the Vietnam War. Mia resents giving up her summer to travel to a hot, crowded country she has no allegiance to, and she doesn't care to meet the dozens of distant family members who swarm upon their arrival. As summer drifts by and she reluctantly adjusts to the culture shock and language barrier, the mystery behind Ong's final days begins to reveal itself as Mia embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

Is it any good?

LISTEN, SLOWLY is a captivating read from start to finish, with well-drawn characters and colorful descriptions of Vietnam that vividly come alive through the eyes of an impressionable young Mia. Author Thanhha Lai does a remarkable job capturing the adolescent discontent of a California girl who finds herself in a land completely different from the one she knows, and she seamlessly stitches what ultimately becomes a poignant tale of self-discovery into the richly woven narrative. 

Mia is a complex and entertaining narrator, and the myriad friends and family members that shape her journey are funny and memorable. Despite some of the silly and sticky predicaments Mia gets herself into, including an episode involving thong underwear and a manipulative ploy to disrupt the detective working to find Ong, at the heart of Mia's journey is the deep and lasting understanding she comes to about family, friendship, and herself. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about cultural heritage. What impact does Mia's time in Vietnam have on her cultural identity? What are some of the challenges of growing up in a country different from that of your parents? 

  • For kids growing up in America, the Vietnam War is viewed through the lens of U.S. involvement. How does the account of Mia's grandfather's experience shape kids' understanding of the conflict? 

  • Were you surprised that Mia and Ut become so close? Why, or why not? How does Mia's feelings toward Montana change throughout the novel? Is Montana a good friend? Is Mia? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love books about families and Asian culture

Themes & Topics

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