three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
43-Nov-Dec-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-Short GirlsIn Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2007), Bich Minh Nguyen chronicles her life as a Vietnamese teenager in Michigan. Short Girls is her first novel.

The Story: Van and Linny Luong, two Vietnamese American sisters, are complete opposites. Van, an overachiever, flourished in law school, became an immigration lawyer, and married well. Linny, her younger and slightly shorter sister, dropped out of college and works for a company that caters to suburban moms looking to quickly assemble several weeks’ worth of meals. The siblings, estranged since their mother’s death, keep their personal tragedies to themselves, including the collapse of Van’s marriage and Linny’s sordid affair with a married man. But when the two women are thrown together during their father’s citizenship party, they discover that they may have more in common than they once thought.
Viking. 292 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780670020812

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The most impressive aspect of Short Girls is the way that Nguyen maintains the forward momentum of the sisters’ narratives while moving backward in time. … Despite the unfortunate, chick-lit tone of its title, Short Girls is an exceptional debut, funny, insightful and literary, with lots to mull over after you put it down." Conan Putnam

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Chick lit, yes, but elevated with well-observed details. … The references to food and the ‘Asian Once Over’—a look that two women give each other at a party—will probably bring knowing smiles to some readers." Janet Okoben

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"More sad than funny, more real than lightweight, Nguyen’s story offers its characters not revenge, redemption or even success, but acceptance. Even in the country of tall people, short will have to be good enough." Marion Winik

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Nguyen offers a tender dissection of Asian American family life—the isolation that comes from being separated from relatives and deprived of the comforts of belonging to a larger culture. She wields the theme of shortness with great subtlety and nuance, not only mining it for comedy but also using it as a metaphor for the many ways we feel out of place in the world, which is no mean feat." Grace Park

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Nguyen’s characters are everyday sorts, with lives and problems it’s easy to relate to. Perhaps too easy, since they’re also rather forgettable." Alison McCulloch

Critical Summary

Family squabbles and generational conflicts are common themes in Asian American literature. However, most critics felt Nguyen’s sense of place (she grew up in Michigan and knows her terrain), as well as her ability to keep the story moving forward even as the narrative hopscotched through time, elevated the work. Several critics noted the novelty of reading about Asian Americans living outside San Francisco or New York. Still, some reviewers felt that everyday details at times bogged down the narrative and that the believability of the characters varied. Despite these complaints, most critics considered Short Girls a very funny, and occasionally sad, exploration of Asian American family dynamics.