Loan Le’s debut novel A Phở Love Story is an #ownvoices romantic comedy about two Vietnamese-American teens whose parents own competing phở restaurants. A book about identity and family at its heart, Le’s vibrant and three dimensional characters bring the story to life.
Bảo Nguyễn is just trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life amidst shifts at his parents’ restaurant, attending classes and hanging out with his best friend Việt. Across the street, Linh Mai also helps out at her parents’ phở restaurant. A painter, Linh dreams of pursuing an art career—a dream that clashes with her parent’s desires for a career that would guarantee her a financially secure future.
As the owners of neighboring phở restaurants, the Mais and the Nguyễns have been in competition for years. But when Bảo and Linh cross paths, things start to click for them, despite their parents’ demands for them to keep apart. And they start to wonder if there’s more to their families’ feud than their competing phở restaurants. . .
Told between Bảo and Linh’s alternating perspectives, the narrative comes together with beautiful storytelling and resonant themes. Both Bảo and Linh’s parents are Vietnamese refugees, which brings to focus the struggle for communication across generational as well as cultural boundaries. There are some things Linh and Bảo recognize they will never truly be able to empathize with in regards to their parents’ experiences, but the struggle for communication in their efforts to understand one another is central to the book.
I especially appreciated the cast of characters as a whole. Through characters such as Linh’s older sister Evie, Le is able to delve into these struggles for communication across different perspectives, such as that of being the oldest daughter in an immigrant family. Or characters such as Chef Lê and Dì Vàng, who provide a glimpse into the possibility of different futures for Linh. I also enjoyed reading Linh and Bảo’s respective best friends, Ali and Việt, and seeing their relationships and goals in their attempts to figure things out. The characters themselves are well-developed and strongly written, apart from the incredible character development of Bảo and Linh themselves throughout the book.
The plot is well-paced, and the inclusion of community made the book especially heartwarming. A well-balanced combination of lighthearted romantic comedy with heavier underlying themes, Loan Le’s debut is impressively well-done. With a wholesome cast of characters, a refreshing take on the forbidden romance trope, and the love at its core, A Phở Love Story promises an entertaining and heartfelt read.
A Phở Love Story by Loan Le was released on Feb. 9, 2021.