A Pho Love Story | ARC Review

Published: February 9th 2021

Cover of "A Pho Love Story" by Loan Le

Pages: 416

Format: eBook (ARC)

Tag: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Asian Lit, PoC

| Synopsis from the Publisher |

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? 

| Book Review |

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing & Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Describing This Book in Adjectives: family-centered, character-driven, contemporary

This book plays off the enemies-to-something-more theme, but in this case Bao and Linh are not really the enemies – their parents are. With their families owning competing Vietnamese restaurants, Bao and Linh have been told to hate each other from childhood, but a chance encounter brings them into each-other’s lives, and thus a budding romance forms.

Told from alternating perspectives, Le’s story will feel very familiar for readers, in the best way. Who hasn’t read about families at odds, a secret romance, and delicious food thrown into the mix? Throughout the novel, I found myself getting so hungry, reading Le’s lush descriptions of food. The food itself is a huge element to the story, with both Bao’s and Linh’s families making their living out of running their restaurants. Both of their families came over as refugees, have know real hardships and lost loved ones and friends on the journey over. Food is one of the ways these families can still feel connected to their homeland, and each family takes their recipes seriously.

The family aspect of this novel is the driving force. Both Bao and Linh are centered within their family, make decisions based on their family, and it’s one of the many similarities they have that brings them together. They each understand what the other is going through because they’ve lived it. Family is also one of the things keeping them apart, as both know their families won’t accept their relationship. Many readers will probably enjoy the secret romance aspect of the story. It definitely drives the story forward and is a pretty compelling aspect of the book.

I love the romance in this story as well. Since you get both Bao’s and Linh’s perspectives, you get to experience every aspect of their growing attraction, become submerged in their feelings. Both are hesitant to admit to their feelings at first, but the attraction is strong. It’s one of the most fun parts about reading the book, watching them dance around each other. Their friends, the secondary characters, add another element of hilarity and complexity. I enjoyed the secondary characters as much as the main.

Ultimately, this is a story about making amends, about being honest (with oneself and with those close to you), and about achieving your dreams. I think many readers will connect with Bao in his journey of self-discovery of what he’s capable of, of Linh’s fear of coming clean to her family about what her dreams are because they don’t align with what her parents want for her. There’s a lot of general teen angst that many will find relatable, which is one of the reasons this book rings so true. I know that I will be recommending this book to people, it’s just so good!

Read Alikes:

| My Rating |

Definitely Worth the Read

I really enjoyed reading this book. The romance is so sweet and it has that added bonus of love-on-the-sly which I like. I also really enjoyed reading about authentic Vietnamese food, although it did make me very hungry!

However, this isn’t just a romance. Le’s novel deals with many hard-hitting issues. The characters are really relatable because they face issues that many teens in America will probably recognize and identify with, such as having a dream that is counter to what your parent(s) want for you or even not knowing what you’re good at. Self-discovery and being honesty with oneself are big issues in this book, along with family and identity. The parents of the main characters immigrated to the US looking for better opportunities for their children. Issues of race are brought up, but it’s handled very well and realistically, so it doesn’t feel like an unnecessary layer of depth. Many teen readers will probably appreciate the acknowledgement.

Ultimately, this is a book you’ll want to read if you’re into the hidden romance trope, the warring families trope, or you just dig really good contemporary, realistic fiction.

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