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A Pho Love Story
by Loan Le
Perfect for Valentine’s Day—or any day for that matter! Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story, written with a teenage or young adult audience in mind, is a modern day Vietnamese-American “Romeo and Juliet” tale. Báo and Linh, seniors in high school, do not understand the family conflict that has gone on for as long as they can remember. Their families’ restaurants, serving authentic Vietnamese dishes, are situated on opposites sides of the same street. The parents, however, clearly dislike each other. In fact, the children are not allowed to talk or play together. Is this conflict a result of competition for economic survival or is there a deeper reason going back to their days in Vietnam and the dangerous boat trips to safety and freedom? Cultural norms for showing respect to their parents prevent both Báo and Linh from questioning them about the deeply felt social boundaries in the neighborhood.
Báo and Linh are sympathetic characters; Báo is trying to decide on a career and Linh wants to make her passion and talent for painting acceptable to her parents. The Vietnamese flavor throughout is authentic and reflective of the author’s family heritage. Because both families own restaurants, food plays an important role. Vietnamese culture is also prominent in descriptions of the parents and the family dynamics. As someone familiar with Spanish, French, and Latin, I can usually read expressions from those languages when added to the text for authenticity, but the phrases included in this book sent me scurrying to a translation app. Most meanings could be divined from context, but I really like to know the exact meaning of words, whether in English or another language, for a deeper reading experience. A Pho Love Story was enriching in that respect.
I am sure most readers can predict the outcome, but not how the characters will arrive there. The journey is bumpy, but fun, as the author weaves literary magic within the plot. The story is told by the teenagers from alternating points of view by chapter, a technique which works really well in this book. There are several interesting adults who act as mentors to the pair without telling them what to do. This would be an engaging read for teenagers and young adults.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Teen and Young Adult
Notes: There is some bad language sprinkled throughout the book.
Publication: February 9, 2021—Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
My parents—my mom, really—has now perfected the art of non-encounters; knowing their schedule right down to when they close and when they leave. In a way, their schedule has become ours. We’re background characters in each other’s stories.
She trusts Viet to do his job, as well as make sure I do mine. The concept’s not perfect: We’re the same age, and letting him watch over me makes as much sense as letting a horse and a pony run the show. But somehow it works.
I like the writer’s style. One person can say something that’s been said before but in a way that’s completely different; their unique experiences and personality infuse their words, their sentences.
A Long Walk to Water
by Linda Sue Park
You have probably heard of the Lost Boys of Sudan. In A Long Walk to Water, Linda Sue Park tells the story of one of those lost boys, Salva Dut, who even as a refugee himself, took on a leadership role for 1500 boys in their very long, dangerous, and seemingly hopeless journey for survival. Salva, as a young adult, was chosen out of a refugee camp to emigrate to the United States. This book tells how he transformed his desperate situation into a life giving project for the people of Sudan based on hope, faith, and most especially perseverance.
Told in two timelines with apparently disparate plots, this book moves back and forth with both stories progressing forward in each chapter. It begins slowly, but soon picks up the pace and the reader’s interest. The book starts with the tale of Nya, an eleven year old girl in southern Sudan in 2008 who spends her day traveling from her village to a pond to collect dirty water in a jug which she then carries home on her head. She does this twice a day in extreme heat, traversing with bare feet a thorny path to bring home enough water for her family to survive.
Salva’s story also begins in southern Sudan, but much earlier, in 1985, when his village and school are attacked by armed men during an ongoing confrontation between the Muslim government in the north and the rebels of the south. Thus begins Salva’s separation from his family and his struggle for survival.
Although this book is aimed at a younger audience, as an adult I am so glad I read this story which is based on the lives of real people, Salva and Nya and their families. It reads quickly and lays out the need for clean, accessible water for South Sudan, pointing out the many rippling effects of pure water on a community. It also shows how diverse tribes can work together for a common good. The website noted at the end of the book provides more information and gives a practical way for those of us blessed with plenty to help those without the basic necessities.
Category: Children’s Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. The suggested ages and grade levels vary according to printed reports, but in general: Grades 5-9 and Ages 10-14. The book does a good job of recording hardships and violence without graphic details. Because of the subject matter, I would not recommend it for younger children.
2. The reader will find links to lots of videos about Salva and his project at www.waterforsouthsudan.org.
Publication: October 4, 2011—HMH Books for Young Readers
No one in the group had eaten anything for two days. Their water was nearly gone. Only the vision of leaving the desert kept them moving through the heat and the dust.
It did not seem as if the camp could possibly hold any more, but still they kept coming: long lines of people, some emaciated, some hurt or sick, all exhausted.
He felt as though he were standing on the edge of a giant hole—a hole filled with the black despair of nothingness. I am alone now.
It was hard to keep hope alive when there was so little to feed it.
My Real Name is Hanna
by Tara Lynn Masih
My Real Name is Hanna is the story of a Jewish girl and her family who live under horrible circumstances in Ukraine to escape death at the hand of the Nazis and others. This book by Tara Lynn Masih has much potential. Many parts of the survival tale are drawn from the story of a real family that had to live underground. The first part of the book bounces around a little and then settles down into a sequential tale. Although it is a sad story, I didn’t really find myself emotionally involved with any of the characters. Parts of the narrative got my attention, such as when family members were in danger. I wanted to see them survive, but mainly I wanted the book to be over.
The author uses words from other languages freely. I like the authenticity of that but I would have appreciated a glossary, and I think young people would find that helpful as well. The area the family lives in has been occupied by many countries so there are competing cultures and languages—Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and German.
I actually found the “Historical Notes” at the end of the book more interesting than the book itself. Unfortunately, the author includes her own political stance on current events in these historical notes. If she wants to put forth these ideas in her book, I would suggest she do it in an editorial type section separate from a discussion of the historical basis of the book. Like the author, I hope the day will come when we don’t need reminders of the Holocaust as cautionary tales against cruelty. I don’t think, however, that it is appropriate to use her historical notes as a platform for indoctrinating young people into her political views. The story should stand on its own merits, and young people are capable of reading the book and making their own moral conclusions.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Mandel Vilar Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction, Teens
Notes: Interest Level—Ages 12 and up
Grade Level 10-12
Publication: September 25, 2018—Mandel Vilar Press
I see in my mind again those posters in the window, the big red letters, the lice, the blaming of Jews for the war. Someday, someone will betray us. For money, for food, for their own lives spared.
I can now hear what sounds like heavy boots approaching the house from down the lane, grinding the dirt and gravel with their murderous purpose.
When you’re hidden away, with no freedom, you crave news of the outside world as much as you crave food.
Lessons in Falling
Lessons in Falling has the expert touch of a gymnast in writer Diana Gallagher. Although the focus of the story is gymnastics, the book is so much more. This is not one of those themed books for young readers aimed at an audience of pre-teen and teenage girls who are, were, or want to be gymnasts. The scope of this book ranges from teenage friendships to romantic relationships. It encompasses issues common to teenagers: college applications and scholarships, driver’s tests, depression, texting, work issues, immigration, parental expectations, extracurricular activities, and discrimination. The plot centers around Savannah, an aspiring gymnast who has suffered an injury, and her longtime friend, Cass. It explores their personalities and relationship during their critical senior year of high school. Teenage years are chaotic for many; Gallagher does not oversimplify or exaggerate the difficulties her characters encounter.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Spencer Hill Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Teens and Young Adults
- Some bad language
- Although it did not ruin the book for me, I wished I had not seen a summary prior to reading this book. I kept anticipating a certain event and would rather have been surprised when it occurred.
Publication: February 7, 2017—Spencer Hill Press
She could go on all day like this, using me as the shoreline that her words beat against.
Yesterday, she comforted me. Today, I’m her anchor. At the end of the day, we’re thicker than humidity in July.
As kids we played together, schemed together, nursed bruised knees and silly crushes on boy bands. She was quiet unless she was with me. Together, chances were that we were screaming as we sprinted into the ocean and laughing as we splashed each other. We whispered together under the trees as the neighborhood kids ran around searching for us in Manhunt, never giving up our spot. I rode my bike to her house when Richard was first deployed, blinking tears out of my eyes. She met me at the curb and grabbed my hand. Although her hand was bony, cool, without calluses, it was just as strong as mine. Sometimes I think she hasn’t let go. She keeps her arm around me now, reminding me that I’m her anchor, that she will run to me if she needs to be safe.