I’ll Read Anything: ‘A Pho Love Story’
This book is the perfect culmination of forbidden love and amazing food.
February 16, 2021
As Vanderbilt students, there’s one thing we all have in common—we’re nerds. Don’t start internally battling with me on this just yet, odds are every one of us can look back nostalgically to our glory days as middle-school high achievers and remember when we used to pick up fiction books and genuinely enjoy reading them. As the Life Staff, we’re on a quest to find that feeling again, and that starts with picking up a book. Our staffers (with various literary interests and preferences) will be churning through novels of their own and publishing their candid reviews in the Hustler’s newest series: “I’ll Read Anything.” Read on to find a book that’s worthwhile and embrace your middle school nerd again (minus the braces).
“She’s scared, and I wish I could tell her that I am, too. That I don’t know how things will work. But if we could hold hands a bit longer, maybe we’ll figure it out.”
Romeo and Juliet meets delicious cuisine meets Vietnamese culture. “A Pho Love Story” achieves that feat and more. This romantic YA novel, written by Loan Le, was released Feb. 9, and I haven’t put it down since (spoilers ahead).
The story alternates between the points of view of the two main characters: Bảo Nguyen and Linh Mai. Both are seniors in high school, searching for their purpose in life. Bảo is unsure of what to major in because he’s always mediocre at everything he’s tried. Meanwhile, Linh dreams of becoming an artist, something her parents are strictly against. The two work at their respective family’s rival Vietnamese restaurants, forbidden to ever cross paths. However, after a long and stressful day, Bảo sees Linh across the street on the verge of tears and approaches to help her out. This gesture incites a journey of fighting for love amidst a long-lasting family feud.
Although the romance in this book was absolutely adorable, my mouth would not stop salivating at the descriptive depictions of all of the wonderful food. Definitely don’t read this book when you’re hungry—from pho to bánh xèo, the level of detail that Le gives to the description of the food made me feel as though I could actually taste these delicious Vietnamese dishes.
Aside from the food, I appreciated the amount of Vietnamese culture throughout the book. I loved reading the Vietnamese phrases from both families and found myself googling many of the sentences. I especially loved a particular scene in which Linh teaches Ali, her friend, how to pronounce “pho.” The book brought up many important discussions regarding racism, sparked by an encounter with a xenophobic, racist customer. Another big focus in this book is the difficulty that comes with immigration. The author handled these topics extremely well, and they were incredibly eye-opening to read about. In teenybopper, cutesy books like these, all too often sensitive issues are shoved under the rug in an effort to comfort the reader. I felt Le effortlessly and effectively confronted us directly with these topics such that we couldn’t look away, weaving them directly into the plotline (for instance, facing the racist customer) as opposed to describing them as a subtle overhead narrative to the protagonist’s trials and tribulations.
The writing style of this book was almost too relatable. Although I loved how the characters were meant to be a prime example of awkward adolescence, many details between the lines of the book threw me off. Mentions of a “TikTok club,” the Scholastic Art and Writing competition and even Netflix’s “Patriot Act” host Hasan Minhaj made it feel like the author was trying too hard to make the story applicable to today’s society. It was a bit cringe-worthy, and I couldn’t help wondering whether or not these references would make sense a couple years from now. Although I loved reading from the perspectives of Bảo and Linh, it was hard to remember which character was speaking at times, because they had very similar personalities. If the complexities of each character were more defined, their relationship would have presented that much stronger.
Overall, this book was a heartfelt and enriching read all at once. I loved all of the characters and watching Bảo and Linh’s relationship blossom. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs a little love in their life or anyone who simply wants to live (or eat) vicariously by the amazing descriptions of the Vietnamese dishes made by Bảo and Linh’s families.