- Title: A Phở Love Story
- Author: Loan Le
- Narrators: Ryan Do & Vyvy Nguyen
- ISBN: 9781797119472
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
- Copyright Date: 2021
Genre: Romance; Contemporary.
Awards or Honors: n/a.
Reading Level/Interest Level: Ages 12-18 (SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox).
Plot Summary: Bảo Nguyễn and Linh Mai are not supposed to talk to each other, let alone like each other — their families own competing phở restaurants right across the street from each other, and the rivalry is intense. So when Bảo spots Linh having some sort of breakdown in the alley behind her restaurant and decides to help, he knows his mom would freak out if she knew. But he does it anyway. The thing is, Bảo and Linh don’t have anything against each other: that’s their parents’ rivalry, not theirs. And once they actually meet on their own terms, they immediately connect over their shared experiences growing up in restaurants…and their parents’ unrealistic expectations. But with complicated family dynamics at play, not to mention figuring out what they’re going to do with their lives after high school, can they really make it (what ever it is) work?
Author Background: Loan Le holds an MFA in fiction from Fairfield University (Le, 2011). By day, Le works as an editor for Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster adult imprint (Le, 2011). The author of debut YA romantic comedy A Phở Love Story, when not writing or editing, she can usually be found watching K-Dramas and listening to BTS (Le, 2011).
In addition to her debut novel, Le is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose short stories have been published in CRAFT Literary, Mud Season Review, and Angel City Review (Amna, 2021). Le has said that her own family background inspired her development of the characters in A Phở Love Story, as she also comes from a family of Vietnamese boat refugees and immigrants (Amna, 2021). Le is currently working on a companion story to A Phở Love Story, and is hoping to submit the manuscript to the publisher soon (Amna, 2021).
Critical Evaluation: In this contemporary Romeo and Juliet-inspired romance (notably minus the double suicide), Bảo and Linh are the children of competing Vietnamese restaurant-owning families in California. At first glance, A Phở Love Story is a straightforward YA romance — and if it didn’t go any deeper, it would still be a good read. But as the story unfolds, debut author Loan Le does take us deeper and the story is richer for it. Mining the intense and complicated history between the two families that reaches back in time to before they came to the United States, Le is able to paint a moving and realistic picture of parents, children, neighbors, and friends who have shared trauma and joy in equal measure. Narration that alternates between Bảo and Linh’s perspectives comes to life thanks to audiobook narrators Ryan Do & Vyvy Nguyen. Both narrators do an excellent job voicing not only their own characters, but supporting characters like Bảo and Linh’s parents. Hearing lines in Vietnamese spoken aloud adds depth to the reading experience that would not come across on the page to an English-only reader. I highly recommend A Phở Love Story for fans of contemporary fiction, romance, and rom-coms like When Dimple Met Rishi.
Creative Use for a Library Program: Since I’m pretty sure it’s physically impossible to read A Phở Love Story without getting hungry, it seems like any program related to this title must include food. Why not host a book club discussion with an assortment of foods and drinks that Bảo and Linh enjoy in the book? Try boba and bahn mi, a build-your-own phở bar, or Vietnamese iced coffee and pastries. Check your collection for Vietnamese cookbooks and put them on display (after mining them for potential book club gathering recipes).
Speed-Round Book Talk: Bảo and Linh are not supposed to talk to each other, let alone like each other — their families own competing phở restaurants right across the street from each other, and the rivalry is intense. So when Bảo and Linh actually start hanging out, they know their families would freak out if they knew. But they just can’t seem to stay apart…
Potential Challenge Issues and Defense Preparation: A Phở Love Story could be challenged because it includes discussion of trauma related to the Vietnam War and racism. In defense of this title, I would share that author Loan Le herself comes from a family of Vietnamese boat refugees and immigrants. The struggles of the main characters with the expectations of their families will resonate with many teen readers.
Reason for Inclusion: A Phở Love Story is the kind of book to reach for when you want to feel better about the world and the people in it. Teens will resonate with the parental struggles Bảo and Linh face, and the delicious food descriptions will have them googling local Vietnamese restaurants to try.
Amna. (2021, February 22). Exclusive interview: Pop-culturalist chats with Loan Le. Pop Culturalist. http://pop-culturalist.com/exclusive-interview-pop-culturalist-chats-with-loan-le/
Le, L. (n.d.). Official Book Materials. Loan Le. https://writerloanle.me/official-book-items/
Le, L. (2011, April 20). About Me. Loan Le. https://writerloanle.me/aboutme/