Blurb from Goodreads
All’s fair in love, war and noodles . . .
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 favourite employee.
If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and spark and fire. She loves art, and she dreams of making a career of it one day. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including expecting her to work practically full-time at their family’s pho restaurant.
For decades, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh have resolved never to befriend each other, for fear of pushing too far and bringing on undue heartbreak. But when a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao closer, sparks fly . . .
Can Linh and Bao’s love survive in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?
This delicious debut is perfect for fans of When Dimple Met Rishi and To All the Boys I’ve Love Before.
I’m mad at this book! Because that ending…. ahhhhhhhh gave me all the feels and I loved it so much. But the first 50% or so… it draaaaaged. At times I wanted to dnf so bored was I.
This definitely felt like a book of two halves.
The first half just didn’t have the right kind of pacing in my opinion. The real crux of the storyline felt like it just took too long to get going.
It was inevitable from the get go that the two main characters Linh and Bao would get together. I have no issue with this. They’re utterly adorable and perfect for each other, but they needed to get together more quickly because their relationship lacked that “will they, won’t they” vibe i.e. there was no delicious romantic tension in the build up to their becoming a couple. Instead the book placed the tension on the dynamics between their two families… which ultimately paid off because those last few chapters… GOT ME RIGHT IN THE FEELS! So I do wish that the book was a little more tightly edited. It definitely was too long in the first half; the paperback clocks in at just over 400 pages when really this book should have been closer to the 300 page mark.
Another thing that irked me a little bit is that the book is written in chapters that alternate between the two main characters, Linh and Bao’s, points of view. This is a narrative technique that I love because it really allows me as a reader to empathise with both of the main characters and in my opinion it typically creates a more rounded and authentic feeling book with its depictions of human emotions. And for the most part the alternating chapters of A Pho Love Story did that… but … and it’s a big ol’ but… I frequently found myself having to step back from the read for a second so I could remember which character was currently in the spotlight. This was because the voice given to both Linh and Bao was essentially the same. For alternating viewpoints to work I feel that there has to be a clear definition between the narrative voices of the characters… whether this is achieved by one character having a more passive tone, or perhaps one character using more similes or similar to describe their take on the world as they see it, or using first person perspective for one character versus third perspective for the other etc. etc. is all down to the author. I just wish there had been some sort of prose technique used to make the points of view feel sufficiently different from each other.
What I loved about this story and what rescued the book for me is the story surrounding Linh and Bao’s families. The mystery as to why they hate each other was played out perfectly in the second half of the novel… I won’t say more because of spoilers but ooh chef’s kiss to that ending!
And what was extremely touching was reading about difficulties they experience because they are both immigrant families. It was all written so beautifully that I couldn’t but be moved by it. There’s a part in the book that tackles racism in an almost quiet manner that truly floored me as I was reading it. I so enjoyed reading about Vietnamese culture because I’m not at all familiar with it. But more than anything I loved reading about the food!! There were a few instances when Bao especially was describing the food he was eating and omg was I ever so hungry!
I also really liked how this was a book that put the emphasis on familial relationships and what familial love means in all of its warts and all glory. The familial relationships in Linh’s family especially were written with the most caring hand. They were complicated with the capacity to be frustrating and smothering almost… but then they were also gentle and so loving. A truly authentic feeling depiction of the complexities behind the most important relationships in our lives.
So even though I had issues with the pacing and some of the narrative techniques early on in the read, this is still a book I’d recommend because it has fantastic representation of Vietnamese culture and a very sweet love story between two adorably cute characters.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 24th June 2021, Simon and Schuster Children’s UK