It’s been a while since I’ve updated and did a book review, and I also miss updating this site. The last update I did was 6 6 months ago. So far, we’re still in quarantine (it’s June 2021 already), with the vaccine slowly rolling out. And so far, I’ve read 24 books as of May, and it’s almost the end of June.
For this update, I’ll doing a mini review of Loan Le’s utterly delightful YA debut novel, A Phở Love Story, published on February 9. This book was one of my favorites for the month of May.
Set in the neighborhood of Bolsa in Westminster, California, Loan Le weaves a charming story of two Vietnamese-American teens, Linh Mai and Bảo Nguyễn, their warring families, and their competing phở restaurants. Later, we learn that Nguyễns and Mais’ feud is more than just their competing, family-owned restaurants, but rooted in their families’ complicated history.
Linh and Bảo deal with their family’s old-age feud, and sparks fly when a school project allow them to get to know each other as they navigate the usual growing pains strict Asian moms, pursuing their passion, all with a bowl of phở. This #ownvoices YA book is Loan’s love letter to Vietnamese culture and history, packed with mouthwatering food descriptions, beautiful lines (especially about the art), and issue such as racism and how does a community of immigrants deal with it. I highly recommend this book, and it made me crave so much of phở and ramen.
Here are some of the reasons why you should read A Phở Love Story:
- Linh and Bảo’s love story and growing pains – Told in a dual perspective, you get to read in Linh and Bảo’s voices. Although Linh and Bảo met when they were kids and go to the same high school, they never actually talk or know each other because of their family’s old-age feud. Fate finally brought them together when Bảo helped Linh during a busy night at the Mais’ restaurant and when Allison, Linh’s best friend and their school’s editor-in-chief, partnered them for a newspaper project. I love Linh and Bảo’s contrasting personalities that they brought the best in each other. Linh who is sure of her art and would love to pursue it in college while her parents insist that she take up engineering. While Bảo is somewhat steady and awkward, and doesn’t actually know that he’s actually good at something—words. I love how their slow-burn love story also started with friendship and how they brought the best in each other. Bảo encourages Linh to put herself out there with her art, while Linh inspires him to “find something worth writing about”. I just love their progression from “rivals” to friends to boyfriend-girlfriend.
- Mouthwatering food and beautiful art descriptions – As promised by the title, the book is food centric and Loan did a fantastic job incorporating Vietnamese cuisine into Bảo and Linh’s stories. The book made me crave Phở so much then when I had to go to the city to do some errands, I actually went to the only Vietnamese restaurant, Phở Hoa, in BGC that I know and took lots of food pictures. I’ve also listed down some of the dishes mentioned in the book that might want to check out:
- Phở – The main dish in this book. Phở is a Vietnamese soup which consists of bone beef broth, banh Phở noodles (rice noodles), thinly sliced beef (or chicken for Phở ga), bean sprouts, and fresh herbs.
- Bún bò – Another popular Vietnamese soup dish which consists of rice vermicelli, marinated and boiled beef shanks with lemongrass, cubes of congealed pig blood, fermented shrimp. It is also served with various herbs including green onions, raw sliced onions, banana blossoms, mint, basil, Vietnamese coriander, saw tooth herb, red cabbage, and chili sauce. This dish originated from Hue, a former capital of Vietnam.
- Bún riêu – Yet another popular Vietnamese rice noodle soup with several varieties including bún riêu cua (minced crab), bún riêu ca (fish) and Bún riêu oc (snail). Ingredients include paddy crabs, tomato broth, egg, tofu, onion, rice vinegar, and tamarind paste.
- Chả giò – Vietnam’s version of fried spring rolls (lumpia here in the Philippines) which consists of ground pork, mushrooms, noodles, diced vegetables rolled in rice paper and deep fried.
- Bánh xèo – Also known as Vietnamese fried pancake or sometimes Vietnamese crepe. This savory dish is made up of rice flour, turmeric, water, stuffing which includes pork, prawns, green onion, mung bean, and bean sprouts.
- Canh sườn bi – Vietnam’s version of pork spare rib soup
- Bánh patê sô – Vietnamese puff pastry which consists of meat filling, or chicken or beef
- Bánh bèo – Vietnamese rice cake topped with fried shrimp, pork skin, scallion oil, and dipping sauce
- Sinh tố bơ – Vietnamese avocado shake, either a smoothie or milkshake mad with avocado, regular milk and sweetened condensed milk.
- Cà phê sữa đá – Vietnamese iced coffee
And here some of my favorite lines related to Linh’s art and life in general:
- #ownvoices story – While A Phở Love Story is centered on Bảo and Linh’s love story, overcoming their growing pains, and pursuing their dreams, the book also represents the story of Vietnamese immigrants and how a community handles racism when one of their own is attacked or abused verbally and emotionally.
- Support a POC author – Loan Le is definitely an author to watch out for in the YA genre. Not only she crafted a heartfelt love story between two Vietnamese-American teens, she also wrote a love letter to Vietnam and its culture, intertwined with the country’s painful past. I’m not from the US, but I know May was AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Island) Heritage Month, and it’s always good to support a POC author, not only during this month but maybe every month. Read a book by a POC author. She also announced her new book Solving for the Unknown, a companion to this lovely book. Ahhh.
And here some pictures of the pho ga that I ordered last May at Pho Hoa. And for dessert, I had some mango sticky rice with vanilla ice cream and it was glorious. 😍😍😍 So go read it, it’s a pho-ntastic love story.
Meet Loan Le
Loan Le is the author of A Phở Love Story, a YA rom-com that earned praise from NPR, POPSUGAR, Bustle, Bon Appetit, USA TODAY, and Buzzfeed. Solving for the Unknown, her next YA contemporary novel and a companion to A Phở Love Story, is slated for Summer 2023. She holds an MFA degree in fiction from Fairfield University, where she also earned her bachelor’s degree. A Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, Loan has had her short stories appear in CRAFT Literary, Mud Season Review, and more. She is an editor at Atria Books, a Simon & Schuster adult imprint. When she’s not writing young adult novels, she’s writing ghostly, dark adult fiction, watching slow-burn K-Dramas, and listening to BTS. Visit her website at writerloanle.com and find her on Twitter @loanloan and Instagram @loanloanle.