If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.
If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.
For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.
But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.
Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.
Title: A Pho Love Story
Author: Loan Lee
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
Representation: Predominantly Vietnamese cast
Trigger Warnings: Racism, death and grief depiction, mentions the Vietnam war, and xenophobia
Lately, I have found myself drawn toward stories that center around food/restaurants. That could be in part because I simply miss sitting in a restaurant and eating a meal, but I think it’s also because many stories that center around food also tend to center around family and heritage, and we know how much I love stories about family.
I am a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine and get it any time I can. Phở is one of my favorite dishes and this book had me craving it the entire time. In fact, all of the food mentioned in this book sounded absolutely delicious and I kept wishing that the main three fictional restaurants, were real so that I could visit them.
I thought that both Linh and Bao were likable characters. It was easy to see why they were drawn to the other. I liked that the book was told in dual POVs. We got to see what Linh and Bao were thinking throughout the story as well as how their relationships with their parents influenced the choices that they made. I really liked seeing how Linh and Bao supported each other throughout the book and how that was the foundation of their relationship. I’ve seen some criticism that the romance between Linh and Bao felt a bit rushed. While I don’t necessarily disagree, I do think that the pair developed a strong friendship that developed into a romantic relationship, albeit a bit quickly. Because of their friendship and the fact that it was clear they really respected one another outside of their romantic feelings, I wasn’t too bothered by how quickly their romantic relationship developed.
While I did really like Linh and Bao’s relationship and the development of it, I was much more intrigued by the family rivalry. The dual perspectives also allowed the readers to see the rivalry through both family’s eyes, which I think helped the reader stay neutral. What would cause these two families to hate each other so much? The entire time I was dying to know what happened and slowly more details were revealed and the puzzle started to come together. I think that the reasoning for the rivalry made sense based on the understanding of the situation that each family had, and I was so glad to see the whole truth revealed and the aftermath of that.
Something I loved was that Le did not shy away from serious topics throughout the book and I thought all were handled extremely well. The experiences that Linh and Bao’s parents had in Vietnam, as well as their experiences in immigrating to the United States, are integral parts of their characters. I felt that this added depth to the story that can sometimes be missing for YA fiction.
As we’re all aware, in the past year there has been a huge surge in racism and xenophobia against Asian communities. Again, Le did not shy away from either topic. There is a scene where a racist customer accuses Bao’s family of cheating him out of egg rolls. He refuses to pay for his meal, causes a huge scene in the restaurant, and spews out many racist remarks. This customer then goes online and leaves nasty reviews about all of the Asian businesses in that area. I loved how Bao then used his voice and his writing, to call out this man’s inappropriate and racist behavior. I thought that Bao’s open letter was incredibly heartfelt and important, in fact, I think that was one of my favorite parts of the book.
I did take a bit of an issue with some of the pacing. I felt that the book was a little long, there were things that I felt could’ve been tightened up. Although March has been a bit of an odd reading month for me, so those feelings could’ve been amplified by the fact that I was struggling to focus on really any book. Even though I felt the pacing could be a bit slow, I still thoroughly enjoyed the story.
A Pho Love Story is an incredibly strong debut novel from Loan Le, and I will definitely be checking out all of her future works.
As I am not Vietnamese, I would recommend checking out some ownvoice reviews, such as Michelle’s review at Magicalreads7. This post will be updated with more ownvoice reviews as I find them.
Loan Le is the youngest child of two Vietnamese immigrants hailing from Nha Trang. She holds an MFA degree in fiction from Fairfield University, also her undergraduate alma mater. A Pushcart Prize–nominated writer, her short stories have appeared in CRAFT Literary, Mud Season Review, and Angel City Review. Loan is an editor at Simon and Schuster’s Atria Books imprint and lives in Manhattan. A Pho Love Story is her first novel. Visit her website at writerloanle.com and find her on Twitter @loanloan.Website | Twitter | Instagram