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A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War.


Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds. Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things.

Note: My name on the cover has changed from Thanhha Lai to Thanhhà Lại, with diacritical marks added to vowels to direct tone. These pesky, yet essential, little marks are featured prominently in Listen, Slowly.




Lai inserts Ba’s lyrical voice selectively into Mai’s story. These heart-stopping passages further shift Mai’s position from outsider to insider to, finally, truly bicultural, just as “Listen, Slowly” invites readers to see Vietnam from the inside out — and back again.


The New York Times book review by Cathryn M. Mercier



In "Inside Out & Back Again", a National Book Award winner, Thanhha Lai told the riveting tale of a girl who flees Vietnam in 1975. In her new novel, her subject is a contemporary young American who returns to Vietnam to reconnect with her family there. Twelve-year-old Mai absorbs the country's cultural norms (respect for elders, lack of privacy) and vivid sights, sounds and smells ("sweat and fruit and boiling oil and raw meat") as she helps her grandmother discover what happened to her husband when he disappeared during the war. This quest provides the book's momentum and tension, but readers will also enjoy mischievous Mai's clandestine motorcycle rides, the banter with her teen translator and her budding friendship with a frog-loving cousin. Mai comes to better understand both herself and the quiet woman who raised seven children by herself and now joyously drags the girl into a spring rain to "catch memories" in a land where "nothing happens or everything happens." This lively valentine of a novel may jumpstart questions in young readers about the people and places of their families' past.


Washington Post review by Mary Quattlebaum


Lai does a superb job of creating a memorable setting and populating it with fully developed, complex characters. Gracefully written and enriched by apposite figures of speech, Listen, Slowly is a superb, sometimes humorous, always thought-provoking coming-of-age story.


Booklist review by Michael Cart (starred review)



The sights, smells, and tastes of Vietnam’s cities and villages come alive on the page, without overwhelming a story filled with a summers-worth of touching and hilarious moments, grand adventure, and lazy afternoons. With a contemporary time setting, this compelling novel shows the lingering effects of war through generations and how the secrets our parents keep can shape us.


School Library Journal review by Jennifer Rothschild (starred review)



As she did in her National Book Award-winning Inside Out & Back Again, Lai offers a memorable heroine and cultural journey—ones that are clever near-opposites of those in that book, as Lai trades verse for prose and an immigrant’s story for one of a girl fully immersed in American culture. The story capably stands on its own, yet considered alongside Inside Out, it’s all the more rewarding.


Publishers Weekly (starred review)



  • The New York Times Book Review Notable Book
  • Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
  • NPR's Best Books of 2015
  • Booklist High-Demand Hot List

Educational Resources

Listen Slowly_Teachers Guide.pdf
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