Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

In Short Girls, Vietnamese-American sisters Van and Linny are estranged, but have agreed to travel to the home of their father to help him celebrate his new American citizenship. He is obsessed with his inventions, like the Luong Arm, designed to help short people, like his daughters and thinks citizenship will help him with his work. The novel takes us through the sisters' lives from careers and romances to life with their father, now deceased mother and other family members.

I enjoyed this novel. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. Even though it was mostly a serious book, there was more humour and the overall tone of the book was much more light-hearted than I had expected. The authors presents the story in two distinct voices. One for Van, the somewhat stuffy married lawyer. One of Linny, the less established and flighty sister. This approach outlined the differences in the sisters quite well and successfully brought forward the story.

I learned a bit about the Vietnamese culture despite the fact that the family is very Americanized. I loved the conflict that ensued as they struggled with their culture, family life and finding out who they really wanted to be. The other thing I really loved about the book was how the characters and their relationships with each other changed and grew over the course of the story. This was especially true of the relationship between Van and Linny.

Besides Van and Linny, I really enjoyed reading about their father, Mr. Luong. I think he equated being short with being inadequate somehow. His inventions were an attempt to change that. He was so passionate about them but really wasn't taken that seriously. It was nice to see that change (especially from his daughters) over the course of the novel.

If I'm not mistaken, there was one outstanding issue left unresolved in the book. To avoid exposing a spoiler, I'll just say that I found it refreshing to have an unknown at the end of the book, especially since it made sense to me to leaving the reader hanging.

I think this book would make a pretty good selection for book clubs. Many of the issues and themes (family relationships, estrangements, immigrants, inadequacies) would provide groups with plenty to discuss.

Recommended. I'd gladly read another book by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Penguin website.

For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Bich Minh Nguyen's website. Thanks to the back of the book, I now know her name is pronounced Bit Min Nwin.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

Short Girls: A Novel by Bich Minh Nguyen, Viking Penguin, ©2009. ISBN 9780670020812(Advance Uncorrected Proof), 292p.

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