Here is a book that is getting a lot of starred reviews this year. Mai is a Vietnamese American pre-teen who has been raised in California. One summer she is sent with her Grandmother to Vietnam. Her grandmother has hired a detective to try to find out more about her husband who was lost during the Vietnam War. Mai is not at all thrilled to be away from her friends, the beach, and a certain boy for the summer, so she is determined that they will find the answers her grandmother is looking for and return to California within a few days. Of course, it doesn't work out like that, and the longer they stay the more she comes to accept and even enjoy her cultural heritage.
The amazing thing about this book is that it immerses the reader in modern Vietnamese culture. I get the feeling that if someone read this book and then spent the summer in a small Vietnamese town, much of what they experienced there would be just like the book. The other nice thing about the book is the relationship between Mai and her grandmother. They don't even really speak the same language, since the Grandmother never learned much English, and Mai never learned much Vietnamese, but still they are very close. The drawback to the book is that it is a little slow. A lot of kids now want a fast paced and exciting plot, but that is just not this book. There are some funny scenes and some touching scenes but not a lot of excitement. I listened to this book on CD and the reader was clearly bilingual and knew how to properly pronounce all the Vietnamese words. I don't know how some of the scenes, where they were talking about the tonality of the Vietnamese language, would work just in print. I recommend, if you are going to get this book, that you get it on CD. (260 p)