I enjoy a cute rom-com every once in a while, and this book definitely fits the bill. Plus, I could tell pretty early that this book found inspiration from “Romeo and Juliet”, which was also a plus. In both stories, two rival families hold grudges against each other, and their children are essentially forbidden to go near one another. “Romeo and Juliet” has a much more tragic ending than this story, thankfully. “A Phở Love Story” tells the tale of two Vietnamese families who run competing restaurants, and their children who find their way to each other.
“A Phở Love Story” centers around two teenagers, Bao and Linh, whose parents run competing Vietnamese restaurants that just happen to be across the street from each other. Bao and Linh both remember meeting as young children when they were quickly pulled away from each other by their parents. Ever since, they’ve been forced to stay apart, as each family gossips and spreads rumors about the other. Linh is an artist, but her parents do not see art as a viable career option, and push her to choose something more “stable” and “realistic” for her future. Bao, on the other hand, doesn’t know what he wants to do after high school, and has not shown interest in too many ideas. Eventually, Bao and Linh come together and realize that, while their families may hate each other, they certainly do not.
This novel may seem like a simple love story, but it actually tells many different stories at once. The chapters alternate between Bao and Linh’s perspective, and readers see much more than just a teenage romance woven into the novel. Both Bao and Linh’s families escaped Vietnam when it was a dangerous thing to do, both leaving behind family members (some who did not survive). The immigrant story is at the forefront of the novel, as both families came to America to have better opportunities, and began their restaurants to support their families. Bao and Linh share stories of growing up in a restaurant, taking naps in the back rooms and eating quickly before customers would come in. The Vietnamese language is seen throughout the novel, sometimes without any translation. I imagined this is how it would feel to move to a new country where one doesn’t know the language – real life doesn’t always come with a handy translator.
As the title suggests, this book is filled with food. Not just phở, but so many deliciously described Vietnamese dishes, as well as others, that make the reader hungrier the more they read. Linh and Bao work on an assignment for the school newspaper, reviewing local restaurants. Egg rolls, phở, boba tea, ramen and more are devoured as the two teenagers get to know each other. While they share a love of food, they also share the pressure of making their parents proud. Most children, especially children of immigrants, can relate to the pressure of choosing a path that your parents will approve of. Linh’s parents are completely against her choosing art for her career, and Bao hasn’t shown much interest in anything, leaving his parents worried for his future. Both struggle with trying to appease their parents while also staying true to themselves. “A Phở Love Story” is a sweet YA rom-com that will leave you with a smile on your face and hunger in your belly. The characters are complex, smart, and sincere. If you’re looking for a rom-com with some added depth, pick up “A Phở Love Story” by Loan Le today!