Book Review: “Pioneer Girl” by Bich Minh Nguyen

Apr 2 • Blog, Book Reviews • 3173 Views • No Comments on Book Review: “Pioneer Girl” by Bich Minh Nguyen

Synopsis from Goodreads:

From an award-winning author, a novel about a Vietnamese American family’s ties to The Little House on the Prairie

Jobless with a PhD, Lee Lien returns home to her Chicago suburb from grad school, only to find herself contending with issues she’s evaded since college. But when her brother disappears, he leaves behind an
object from their mother’s Vietnam past that stirs up a forgotten childhood dream: a gold-leaf brooch, abandoned by an American reporter in Saigon back in 1965, that might be an heirloom belonging to Laura Ingalls Wilder. As Lee explores the tenuous facts of this connection, she unearths more than expected—a trail of clues and enticements that lead her from the dusty stacks of library archives to hilarious prairie life reenactments and ultimately to San Francisco, where her findings will transform strangers’ lives as well as her own.

A dazzling literary mystery about the true origins of a time-tested classic,Pioneer Girl is also the deeply moving tale of a second-generation Vietnamese daughter, the parents she struggles to honor, the missing brother she is expected to bring home—even as her discoveries yield dramatic insights that will free her to live her own life to its full potential.

My Thoughts:

I read this book in less than twelve hours; I honestly can’t remember the last time that happened! Partly it was because I was stuck in a hospital waiting room with no WiFi or cell service, but it was also that Pioneer Girl grabbed me in a way that I didn’t expect. From the descriptions of life as an American-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees, to the literary – and as far as I am aware, completely fictional – mystery that Lee discovers, I was drawn into the world of this book.

Lee’s relationship with her family is complicated. There is no other way to say it. Her mother criticizes her every move, and favours her spoiled, angry older brother, while her grandfather just wants to keep the peace between everyone.

Of course, every book has its issues: there were time when descriptions went on so long (I’m thinking in particular of a section detailing the life of workers in a Chinese buffet restaurant) that they were practically stand alone essays. I know there were reviewers who took issue with there being a lot of “show, don’t tell” in the book, but that’s never been a rule I really understood. If it is told in an engaging manner, what difference should it make? I was also a little disappointed with the somewhat obvious choice in a part near the end… but I can’t say more than that without spoiling things.

I liked that the book didn’t have a neat, tidy ending. The story was fairly well wrapped up, but at the same time, not everything was SO well wrapped up that felt unreal.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a story with an interesting journey, even if they don’t know anything about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, or the Little House books.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Buy it on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Chapters/Indigo, Kobo

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

PS – If this is your first visit here, please consider checking out my books, Idol Hands, and What Lies Behind.

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