Synopsis: 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?
I’m a pho-natic, so naturally, this book gets a 5 stars from me (no seriously, I can eat pho for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). But on another note, this book was ridiculously adorable! This book not only has Vietnamese protagonists but also takes place in Little Saigon, California–aka my home. Being able to read about Bolsa, La Quinta, and just places that I grew up around was so heartwarming. The descriptions of various settings were so home-y to me that I could vividly picture where the characters were!
Like the pitch, this book certainly came to *serve* with its delicious descriptions of food. By reading about banh xeo, bun bo hue, pho, and other Vietnamese food, it was as if I was transported from my college apartment in Pennsylvania to home in Little Saigon and my mom’s kitchen. Le truly poured so much love into the detailing of the food, you can really taste the textures and smell the aroma of the dishes. But another aspect of the book that I love so much is how it weaves the theme of food with love and community. Food, in this book, represents familial love, strength, and perseverance.
Although food is one of the central themes, the book explores each of the characters’ individuality as they explore their own paths in life. This is a “coming-of-age” story about children of immigrants seeking to understand their own family’s stories as well as their own, and how they try to carve their own path apart from their parents’ expectations. But again, this is a cute rom-com! The stakes are pretty low throughout the book and can be categorized as “realistic fiction.” And underneath these themes, you get to read about fluffy scenes between Linh and Bao!! And also hilarious scenes of the characters’ family; it really felt like I was at home with my entire family while reading the book.
And what’s a story about Little Saigon without immigrants representations? Le carefully crafted a story about family history, grief, but also immigrants and their community. It’s uplifting but also powerful, highlighting the importance of immigrants and their perseverance against adversity.
Much like a bowl of pho, this book gave me comfort and warmth, reminding me of home.