Bảo Nguyen and Linh Mai work across the street from each other at their parents' competing Vietnamese restaurants. Like Romeo and Juliet, Bảo and Linh are forbidden from talking to each other because their families are at war. War means gossip and rumors, sometimes harmless, sometimes not, and avoidance at all costs. The "phở* wars" and "bánh xèo** battles" between the two restaurants are delicious and painful to witness. Each new special or menu item takes the competition to another level.
Despite their family feud, the two teens team up for a high school newspaper assignment that requires taste testing dates: restaurant reviews. Bảo writes the reviews and Linh illustrates the articles. Their writing and artistry pair perfectly. They know food and how to capture the essence of a restaurant. Their reviews grow in popularity as does their affection for each other. Bảo wants to be open about their relationship but Linh is scared of what her parents' reaction might be. She lies about spending time with Bảo and loses her parents' trust while jeopardizing her relationship with Bảo.
Does the next generation keep up the feud and follow family wishes or do they make their own way in the world, even if it upsets the balance? What Bảo and Linh discover is that their families have been hiding more than their treasured recipes and that decades of secrets and lies have kept them apart. This is an uplifting #OwnVoices YA romance and food battle royale. It questions traditional roles and stereotypes for children of immigrants and gets to the heart of an immigrant family experience as well as what it's like to run a family business. The author notes that not all Vietnamese cuisine is the same and that the dishes showcased in this novel are prepared the way her family prepares them.
*Phở is a popular soup dish made with broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat and is considered Vietnam's national dish.
**Bánh Xèo is basically a crispy crêpe with savory fillings.