Twelve-year-old Mia’s parents are 100% Vietnamese, but Mia is 100% Laguna Beach, California. She’s always been told to be proud of her heritage--her pTwelve-year-old Mia’s parents are 100% Vietnamese, but Mia is 100% Laguna Beach, California. She’s always been told to be proud of her heritage--her parents even gave her a bicultural name; She’s Mia in English and Mai in Vietnamese--, but she hasn’t spent much time thinking about it. Until the day she finds herself on a plane to Vietnam with her father and her grandmother, Bà. She’d much rather be on the beach with her BFF Montana trying to get a glimpse of HIM, but instead she is Asian-parent-guilted into accompanying Bà on her journey to find out what happened to her husband, who was lost in the Vietnam/American War. Although Mai begins her summer scheming to escape back to California, over time she begins to grow closer to her family and her Vietnamese roots. She might even learn to read Vietnamese!
Mai’s first person narration (she’s called Mai for the majority of the book, so that’s how I will refer to her in this review) is humorous, sarcastic, and filled with slang (“OMG!”). It's undeniably American. Although she comes to appreciate and value her heritage, it is clear she will never completely lose her Americanness. Vietnamese words and cultural markers, including foods, dress, societal norms and expectations, are seamlessly integrated into the text. The setting is vividly described and each character is strongly developed throughout the story. A helpful map of Vietnam and surrounding countries is including at the beginning of the book. Although the themes of confronting a new culture and dealing with the fallout from the Vietnam/American War are also present in Lại’s previous book, Inside Out and Back Again, this book looks at them through a more modern and American lens. Have your class or book club read both and then compare and contrast the two stories and protagonists.