by Thanhha Lai
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Twelve-year-old Mia is so ready for the beach with her best friend Montana and her new crush, but her parents have other ideas for her summer vacation. She’s shipped off to Vietnam with her grandmother, to accompany her while she meets with a detective who has been trying to track down news of Mia’s grandfather who was captured in the south during the Vietnam War and never heard from again. While they wait, Mai (as she is called with her family) learns the value of patience and even makes a friend. Most of the time she is anxious to get back home to California or at least to check Facebook, but eventually she comes to enjoy her time learning her homeland. Her character development is a bit uneven and I couldn’t always tell what or why her reactions were what they were, but overall satisfying (and she dumps the bad best friend in the end, so yay!). SPOILER ALERT: I read this with my book club and only a small fraction of us finished, so I joked, “Wasn’t it great that they found the grandfather in the end?!” to which everyone flipped out. It would have been way too contrived if they had, and I’m glad they didn’t really. This story was a good vehicle for understanding a bit about Vietnam, the language, culture, and the war, even if things weren’t always explained 100% clearly – it was enough to get the gist.