A Pho Love Story by Loan Le
The Mai and the Nguyen family have been rivals forever, since long before the Mai family set up a rival Vietnamese restaurant across the street from the Nguyen’s restaurant. Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai have been forbidden to speak to each other, but when Bao sees Linh in the alley one day, he gets curious…and the two realize they have a lot in common. Now if they can only hide their growing attraction from their feuding parents.
This was absolutely delightful, although definitely DO NOT read this hungry.
You have been warned.
As a loose, Romeo and Juliet retelling, this 100% works (minus the death and tragedy at the end—this isn’t 14th century Italy).
In between the ahhhhmazing descriptions of food were two kids growing up, discovering their passions, and maneuvering between the expectations of their parents and their own desires.
Linh knows her passion. She’s an artist, but her parents are determined that she become an engineer and have a steady, stable, secure future free from strife and worry, unlike her aunt Di Vhang, who is a semi-famous ceramics artist (her parents only see the struggle throughout the years and not the success).
Bao doesn’t know what he wants. He’s been driftless for his entire life, between helping his parents run their restaurant and figuring out what he wants in a world where everyone seems to have already found their niche.
When Linh’s friend Ali—editor of the school newspaper and the bane of Bao’s life—discovers he has a flair for writing (and finds an idea to make students want to read the paper), she assigns him a new beat: review restaurants and become a food critic. His partner, who would accompany his words with gorgeous artwork of food and decor? Linh.
The two slowly realize they have a lot in common, and a lot of chemistry, and slowly began to work through their emotions and dig into the mysterious history of why their parents hate each other so much.
Anywho, I really, really loved this. I liked Linh’s determination and emphasized with her slowly spiraling anxiety, and I felt for Bao and his don’t-rock-the-boat mentality (his mom wins for best reaction to her child wanting to pursue a less-than-secure career).
I loved the commentary on Vietnamese immigration, with the continued emphasis that not all backgrounds are a monolith, and that countries have (surprise, surprise!) a lot of variety within them. Reading about all of the hard work put on by restaurant owners was fascinating, and I loved learning about the lives of restaurant kids and how they experience the world and each other. Plus, there is a lot on the sense of community, and how communities pull together (or not) around each other in the face of adversity and gossip. There is also some commentary on authenticity versus comfort, with a trendy white-owned fusion restaurant setting up shop in a white-dominant area of town and appropriating the culture of a people for the ~aesthetics~ and the exotic experience (and getting it all wrong, of course).
Also, Saffron rules.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
A Pho Love Story releases February 9, 2021 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers