A Phở Love Story by Loan Le
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers; 2021; 416 pages
Content Warnings: Racism, xenophobia, moderately strong language, anxiety
About the Author: “I’m an editor at Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books imprint by day. By night—and, let’s be honest, into the early morning—I’m a fiction writer trying to collect as many rejections as possible. I hold an MFA in fiction writing from Fairfield University’s low-residency program. My debut YA romantic comedy, A Phở Love Story, is published by S&S Books for Young Readers.” (Bio taken from author’s website.)
With a rivalry reminiscent of the dueling families in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s clear that the Mais and the Nguyens have never gotten along. Their competing pho restaurants in Little Saigon have pushed the families apart for years, including their children: Linh Mai and Bao Nguyen. Linh and Bao are both passionate about helping their family restaurants, but they also struggle with balancing their dreams and their parents’ high expectations. A chance encounter leads to the beginnings of a strong friendship, but as they spend more time together and sparks fly, they start unearthing the true history of their parents’ feud. Will the past keep them apart? Or will they figure out a way to have their pho and eat it too?
Loan Le’s debut novel is a remarkable story of family, love, and food. Both Bao and Linh’s parents escaped Vietnam and immigrated to the United States, so as immigrants and business owners, they work hard to ensure that their children are successful and will never have to worry or struggle as they once did. However, their desire to protect their children often leads to tension. Linh dreams of becoming an artist, but her parents largely disapprove of her career dreams, and encourage her to choose something more reliable. Bao and Linh also struggle to navigate the rivalry between their families—a rivalry they must work to fully understand. I thoroughly enjoyed the love story between Bao and Linh, but Le’s poignant exploration of the importance and meaning of family is what captured my heart. In addition to the intriguing family themes in this novel, there are also some amazing descriptions of food! The inclusion of Vietnamese food and culture makes A Phở Love Story all the more unique and gripping. I encourage anyone and everyone to get their hands on this amazing book as soon as they can…but don’t read it on an empty stomach!
PRR Writer, Tyler Steffen