A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
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