A Phở Love Story by Loan Le

(Phở is a flavorful Vietnamese soup that consists of thin rice noodles, tender meat, fresh herbs, and broth infused with cinnamon, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, and black cardamom.)

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.

A Phở Love Story by Loan Le is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

A Phở Love Story by Loan Le

Linh Mai and Bảo Nguyễn haven’t spoken since they were kids, when they met in a Buddhist temple and were shortly yanked apart by their silently enraged families. Their families own neighboring phở restaurants, but that’s not the whole story. They’re not just neighbors, they are rivals, and not friendly ones. The Mais and Nguyễns are in constant competition with each other; consistently gossiping, trash-talking, and spreading atrocious rumors about each other—aside from frequently calling each other’s phở “dở ẹc” (very, very bad).

But everything changes for Linh and Bảo on the Mais’ Phở Day, when Linh’s family will offer a two-for-one deal for their phở. Linh, a passionate artist, plans to attend an art exhibition, but she has no choice but to help her parents deal with the rush of customers. At one point, she becomes extremely overwhelmed and runs outside to an alley, where she encounters Bảo, who offers to secretly help. Linh and Bảo help make Phở Day a success—all without Linh’s mother knowing, of course! As the night ends and they escape triumphantly to the alley, both realize that everything has changed for them.

Coincidentally or not, Linh and Bảo are soon assigned a project to partner on. As they spend more time together and get to know each other, sparks begin to fly, and they embark on a secret relationship, which they are forced to hide from their families, who would no doubt break them apart once more.

In only a matter of time, Linh and Bảo come to realize that their families’ feud runs deeper than a silly restaurant rivalry, and that their situation is much more complicated than either of them could have imagined.

Throughout it all, Linh struggles to communicate to her parents her dreams of pursuing a career as an artist, as they wish her to become an engineer. Bảo, meanwhile, can’t seem to find something he is passionate about and is hesitant about who he wants to be in life.

This story uses a lot of Vietnamese cultural references, which is one of my favorite aspects of the novel. The author occasionally drops some Vietnamese terms into the dialogue and narration, and the story shows a lot of typical Vietnamese-family customs, tendencies, and conversations. As a Vietnamese person who grew up in the same environment, I found A Phở Love Story hilariously relatable, so I’d definitely recommend it especially to anyone acquainted with Asian culture. This book is also great if you are interested in or curious about Asian culture.

A Phở Love Story by Loan Le is a playful, serious, beautiful, and poignant read all at the same time, and I’m not kidding when I tell you that I started crying when I got to a certain part of the book. (I laughed out loud lots of times too!) I found this story to be very realistic and reflective on parents’ expectations of their kids’ career choices and other general plans for their futures. Definitely give this novel a try! I loved it so much and would no doubt recommend it!

-Lam T.

A Phở Love Story by Loan Le is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.