This book perfectly encapsulates the feeling of being a Vietnamese-American growing up in America. From the food descriptions to the subtle references to Vietnamese culture, this book made me feel right at home while reading through Bao and Linh’s story.
Once upon a time, there were two phở restaurants across from each other. Within each one was a family, one with a daughter and one with a son. The families, the parents especially, were extremely competitive with each other, to the point where one might wonder if this competitiveness was natural. They often tried to outdo each other. If one restaurant decided to upgrade their flooring, the other restaurant would immediately have their flooring redone to make it look even better than the other restaurant’s.
Bảo Nguyễn, the son of two Vietnamese immigrants, works at his parents’ phở restaurant. He’s in his senior year of high school but has drifted, and continues to drift through life with no purpose or goal. That is, until he discovers that he can express himself through writing and journalism.
Linh Mai, the daughter of two Vietnamese immigrants, works at her parents’ phở restaurant. She’s in her senior year of high school as well, but unlike Bảo, has a goal in her life. She wants to pursue art in college, and eventually, as a career. However, one major obstacle prevents her from doing so: her parents. They believe that she’ll never be happy with that life because she won’t be paid as much as she would if she was to become a doctor or an engineer.
As you can probably guess from the title, their paths intersect and they fall in love. Loan Le wrote about all the things that make food, food, and it was so visually descriptive that I found myself craving a bowl of phở at 2am in the morning. Bảo and Linh have a forbidden love, in which they know they aren’t allowed to be in love with each other but they still are. This is because of the long history their parents have with each other, and the reason for the unnatural competition between the two restaurants. However, they find ways to make their love work out, with stolen kisses in the empty art room at school, texting with each other late at night, and going out on “restaurant reviews” that end up feeling more like dates.
I would recommend this book for anyone who likes rom-coms, or anyone who would like to learn about a bit of Vietnamese culture in an easily digestible YA novel.
In conclusion, I would rate this book a 10/10 because of the combination of the cute love story, the visually descriptive writing that allowed me to fully experience the book, and the overall great storytelling!
– Isaac M.