Mai, narrator of Thanhha Lai's Listen, Slowly, was sure that the
summer after sixth grade would be the one she's waited for all her
life, full of California sun and fun. She's old enough to go to the
beach without an adult. She and her best friend have new highlights
and bathing suits. There is a certain boy she'd like to know better.
Her parents, however, have a mission to send her on. Her
grandmother who had to flee Vietnam with seven children including
Mae's father, never learned what happened to her husband. She has
wanted to know for decades. Now a detective may have the information
to help her get closure. With her lawyer mother, her doctor father,
and all other family members too busy, Mai must escort her frail
grandmother back and stay with her until she learns what she needs to.
Wanting only to get back home to her normal life, Mai is
immersed in a culture that is very different and sometimes scary. Her
coping with and learning to value it make for a very poignant coming
of age story.
On a personal note, I can relate. When I was 18 I was one of a group
of exchange students in Mexico. The adult (26) who was in charge was
having a nervous breakdown. As the next oldest, I had taken over
before we even took the train through Mexico. So the months we were
away I had to handle everything from solving student/host family
conflict to helping a kid larger than me come down from illegal drugs.
At the same time I was dating a Mexican law student to whom I became
engaged. By some miracle everyone got back fine.
A great big shout out goes out to all people challenged with making
their way in unfamiliar places.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod