04 August 2010

Book Review: Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

I really don't know what made me check out this book from the library. Maybe it was the title, maybe it was because the whole book was white in color, maybe it was because the title seemed catchy. But after reading it, I find myself surprised at the fact that if I knew the story of the book before reading it, I would never have picked it up.

This book tells the story of two Vietnamese American girls, Linny and Van, who were both born in the USA by first-generation Vietnamese immigrant parents. Van is the quintessential stereotypical Asian kid, garnering honors and getting straight A grades, ending up in Law School and becoming a successful immigration lawyer. Linny on the other hand is a college dropout, who was the more popular one in high school, dating several guys, and the headache of her mother.

The story begins when they were both in their late twenties. Van is married, but he husband Miles Oh, a Chinese-American, left her. The whole book describes the three months after Miles drove out of their house. Linny on the other hand, is the other woman having an affair with Gary, who is married to someone else. Both women's relationships have failed, and they both try to deal with these while at the same time juggling their obligations to family (who happens to be just their dad, since their mother passed away a few years ago), and to the community of Vietnamese immigrants.

I don't feel like describing the plot more than what I did here, as the plot seems to be a little too soap operatic for me. This is perhaps the reason why I said earlier that I wouldn't want to pick up this book if I knew what it was about in the beginning. However, what I liked about this book was the fact that it perhaps does a good job in portraying the ups and downs of the immigrant psyche. This is psychological fiction, and the conflicts are mostly residing in the heads of the characters. I see this constant conflict between the two girls, who were born here in the USA, and never had to struggle with the English language, and their parents' generation. They seem to have this identity crisis of belonging, wondering whether they really are Americans in the true sense of the word, or whether they are Asians like the immigrants and their parents.

I read all these descriptions about the constant battle between tradition and modernism as well, from the type of boyfriend that they were allowed to date, to the fact that Asians are on average shorter than the rest of the Americans. The voluminous descriptions about Vietnamese customs and traditions were mesmerizing. And of course, I could see how the two girls have a constant effort to try to fit into the greater society.

I liked this book partly because I also found myself in similar situations in the past. I can relate to the problems that these two girls faced. However, I found the story a little too feminine for my taste. I could imagine other readers who would immediately sympathize and take to heart the emotions that these two girls portrayed in the novel, while I could just care less and be content with just reading about it. Oh well, I am rarely moved by what I read anyway.

I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(The Courtyard, from my Qorikancha Series)


  1. It sound a bit too chick-lit for me. One book I recently read again and can recommend is "The Secret History" (Donna Tartt). I can't even describe it now but you may like it, it is set in a university among grad students. Give it a try!

  2. Zhu,

    It is indeed chick-lit, with an immigration twist. But chick-lit nonetheless. Anyway, thank you for the recommendation. I'll try and find it!

  3. You should be able to, it was written in 1992, a bit of a classic in its own way.

  4. Zhu,

    I already checked it out of the library and is now in my to-read pile!