Thank you to Simon and Schuster for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 favorite employee. Not ideal.
If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.
For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.
But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.
Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?
This is a cute fun story of two teens who despite being from rival family restaurants end up secretly dating after they are paired together to write reviews for local restaurants. I really liked both Linh and Bao. I also really liked their friends and how they supported and helped each other.
Although this has a cute romance there are also some more serious discussions that happen in the book too. Discussing the difficulties of growing up in a country that isn’t safe to live in, becoming a refugee and then having to start over in a completely new place. The racism that they face and this is something that both Bao and Linh also have to deal with.
Some of the things that Bao and Linh have to deal with this throughout this book was so relatable as a child of immigrant parents. Choosing between doing what you love and what will pay the bills and can they both be the same thing. Pursuing your passion which may disappoint your family or living up to their expectations. Surviving the gossip of the community and reducing yourself so that you aren’t the next target or living life on your own terms. I loved seeing these discussed in the story.
The first half is a little slow but the story picks up a lot in the second half and we learn that there could be more to the family rivalry than just rival restaurants and this added layer just made the story even more interesting. Linh and Bao both have their own individual arcs too in learning more about themselves and what they truly want from life and if they’re willing to take the risk to fight for it. I loved that their arcs wasn’t solely their romance.
But their relationship and how it slowly built was absolutely adorable. They helped each other in their lowest moments and also pushed each other to fight for their dreams. Bao especially stole my heart because he was so sweet, kind and thoughtful. Linh’s passion for art was so wonderful to see and how her teacher encouraged her to pursue it. How she really spoke through her art and showed the emotions through her it. I could picture it in my head.
I cannot forget to mention the food. All the food. The Vietnamese food was described throughout the book and was a big part of the story and it left my mouth watering. I loved how food was such a big part of both their lives and how it’s more than just food. It brings the community together and it is comfort and more.
Overall this was a great read and one that will stay with me for a long time.