A Pho Love Story

S. & S. Feb. 2021. 352p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781534441934; pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781534496446.
Gr 7 Up–Set in the Bolsa neighborhood of Westminster, CA, this romantic comedy, told in alternating first-person chapters, is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet that serves up family secrets and self-discovery with a side of hoisin sauce. The Mais and the Nguyens have been rivals ever since Linh’s family opened a restaurant across the street from Bao’s. But during senior year, they suddenly find themselves working together for the school newspaper on a series of local restaurant reviews. The story opens somewhat formulaically but evens out as tensions between the two restaurants rise and Linh and Bao begin to uncover truths about their families’ shared past. In and out of school, Linh and Bao’s burgeoning friendship believably turns into something more. Side characters are sparely rendered, allowing the spotlight to shine on Bao, a refreshingly sensitive masculine love interest, and Linh, whose love of painting is in conflict with her fear of not meeting her family’s expectations. The book’s explorations of immigration, racism, and family history move the plot forward and the feel-good ending is a tad too tidy. Even so, Linh’s and Bao’s character growth is as satisfying as a bowl of pho. Readers will appreciate the food references and the Vietnamese language interspersed throughout the book. Most characters are Vietnamese American; secondary characters include a white classmate, a Japanese art teacher, and a Black French woman.
VERDICT Purchase where light romance or #OwnVoices books are in demand. Hand to fans of Sandhya Menon or Emma Lord.

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