interview: loan le banner

I feel that I’ve well established how much A Phở Love Story means to me by now. (You can read my review linked below.) I’m so happy to be talking with the author, a fellow Vietnamese American about her book today! A Phở Love Story releases February 9; in the meantime, read on for my interview with Loan Le about the origins of the book, her characters’ favorite foods, and which BTS songs pair perfectly with this book!

| read my review here |

a pho love story cover

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

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?

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About the Book

First, describe your book in two sentences.

A Phở Love Story is an adorable YA novel about two Vietnamese American teens—Linh and Bảo—who must navigate the storm of their families’ restaurant rivalry as they fall in love with each other. Linh and Bảo also chase their passions, and the story shines a light on all the misunderstandings and miscommunication that might occur within immigrant families. 

Where did the story of A Pho Love Story originate?

Food is so important to me. When I think of food, I think of home, family, and safety. So I knew the novel had to include food. Then I thought about how stubborn Vietnamese people can be; they hold too many grudges, which made me think of the rivalry at the core of the novel. I also thought about my own family’s history. My mom and most of my relatives are refugees who escaped either by boat or by foot. The rest came after. I’ve witnessed their sacrifices and bravery over and over again, so I definitely needed to include that in the story.   

There are so few ownvoices Vietnamese-American stories in YA although that’s changing every year. What does it mean to you to write about your own culture?

Right, Vietnamese American stories are slowly but surely popping up in young adult literature! Writing about my own culture makes me feel warm and fuzzy. That sounds like a cliché, but I truly feel that way. I never thought I’d see characters calling their parents Ba and Mẹ. I never thought I’d write anything that would tackle the relationship between children and their immigrant parents. The Vietnamese American experience is so layered, especially since it’s so connected to the war, and authors are just starting to unpeel the trauma from that. But I also feel that Vietnamese American authors are allowed to write outside of the war–even beyond it. We should have the space to do that. 

Also, throughout the process of writing this story, I grew more connected to the Vietnamese language, though I need to practice if I want to improve 🙂

Linh and Bao grow up in a large Vietnamese-American community. How did your own childhood experiences influence your book?

I really wish I lived in a large community like Little Saigon, but I moved when I was young, and grew up on the opposite side. So, my large family was really my community—a microcosm of the Vietnamese American community. When my family was just settling in America, we were all living together under one roof. My fondest memories include parties with tables nearly collapsing from the weight of food and older cousins babysitting me or visiting me when they were home from college. I remember attending my cousins’ engagement ceremonies and weddings, and then their children’s one-year ceremony and their birthdays. I also remember how much Vietnamese women love to gossip, so I definitely had to put that into my story. 

What was your publishing path like?

I can only describe it as magical. My agent’s a seasoned publishing veteran who’s really beloved by everyone–including me! I had the most wonderful editor who’s known for making space for BIPOC authors in this industry. I love my team. I felt the magic of publishing before because I’m an editor on the adult side, but I was surrounded by it as an author. I’ve also met so many kind, brilliant fellow authors and passionate book bloggers and bookstagrammers like you!

About the Author

What are some of your favorite 2020 debuts?

I enjoyed The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim. And I loved Lyla Lee’s I’ll Be the One

What about any other releases this year?

There’s a long list, and I don’t want to go on for too long 🙂 I’m so excited for Jesse Sutanto’s Dial A For Aunties and Mia Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo. The premises for both novels sound fantastic, and I just love the covers so much. I know I will cry when I read Dustin Thao’s You’ve Reached Sam. Recently I’ve been eyeing Jennifer Yen’s A Taste for Love and Laekan Zea Kemp’s Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet. There’s just so many. 

What are some of your favorite Vietnamese foods?

I love thịt kho (caramelized pork belly, often with eggs); that’s one of many reasons to look forward to the Lunar New Year 🙂 One of my favorite summer foods is cá nướng (grilled fish), paired with rice paper and fresh herbs. Cơm gà, or Vietnamese chicken and rice, always reminds me of home. And sorry to be basic, but I do love phở!

Rapid-Fire Questions

What are your characters’ favorite foods?

Oh, this is interesting! Hmm. . .

  • Linh, protagonist: I think she’d like any type of chè or any Vietnamese sweet dessert. 
  • Bảo, protagonist: I think he likes bánh xèo, or crispy Vietnamese crepe with pork belly and shrimp. 
  • Viet, Bảo’s best friend: Since he’s unpredictable and marches to the beat of his own drum, he is probably satisfied with plain rice. Does that scare me? Maybe. 
  • Ali, Linh’s best friend: anything spicy, probably. To match her personality 🙂

Match a BTS song with your book/characters!

Just one?! I can’t. So, I’d say: “Boy with Luv” or “Dimple” or “Pied Piper” or “Euphoria!” Flirty songs 🙂

What’s your favorite trope to read?

Friends to lovers! Mutual pining. I do like the occasional love triangle 🙂 

What was the last book you read?

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James. 

What was the last TV show or movie you watched?

I just watched the latest episode of “Discovery of Witches,” the second season. I loved the first season!

loan le author image

About the Author: Loan Le is the youngest child of two Vietnamese immigrants hailing from Nha Trang. She holds an MFA degree in fiction from Fairfield University, also her undergraduate alma mater. A Pushcart Prize–nominated writer, her short stories have appeared in CRAFT Literary, Mud Season Review, and Angel City Review. Loan is an editor at Simon and Schuster’s Atria Books imprint and lives in Manhattan. A Pho Love Story is her first novel.

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