To read more reviews of 2018 Caudills, click here.

Listen Slowly is a realistic fiction book that takes place mostly in Vietnam. All Mai wants is to hang out on the beach in her California hometown with her best friend Montana, but Mai’s parents have other plans. Claiming to be too busy to do it themselves, they ask Mai to accompany her grandmother to Vietnam so that she can meet with the detective that is searching for her MIA grandfather from years ago. Mai is really annoyed about this and makes it clear. Obviously. her grandfather is dead and her parents are forcing her to waste her summer sweating to death and getting eaten by mosquitos while being stuffed with food from relatives she doesn’t know.

In Vietnam, Mai adjusts to the culture shock and learns the backstory behind why she thinks all Asians from Vietnam are overachievers. Most of them don’t even get to go to college because the test is hard and their families don’t have enough money. They are all fighting over scholarships so that they can go to school, get good jobs and support their families. They feel a strong loyalty and responsibility to them. Mai’s father tried to instill this in Mai, but she was too American to want that. In Vietnam, her views slowly change.

Mai meets Ut, an equally sassy girl whom she has plenty of friction with at first. But eventually, they decide to go into cahoots together to set up her older sister with Mai’s translator and to find the detective and VC guard themselves because Vietnamese customs and beliefs are making both transactions deathly slow and nearly impossible. I love how this book talks about each person’s place in society as well as in the family and how you can go with that and against it in different ways. At first, I thought Mai was a brat, but then I realized how hard it was for her to be in a different country with only her grandmother who doesn’t speak English, and how different Vietnamese family dynamics are from her more Americanized life.

I also think her attitude is hilarious and she uses her more forceful demeanor to get stuff done in Vietnam that the more indirect people cannot because of their dedication to only focusing on others’ needs above their own. It seems Mai is a perfect mix of Vietnamese and American after all.