From Publishers Weekly
The enigmatic first novel from memoirist Nguyen (Stealing Buddha's Dinner
) is a detailed character study of second-generation sisters who find themselves more anchored by their Vietnamese heritage than they had realized. Van and Linny Luong, estranged since their childhood in a suburb of Grand Rapids, Mich., return home for their father's American citizenship ceremony. Van, a lifelong goodie-goodie, finds herself abandoned by her husband, while Linny, Van's polar opposite, leaves her married lover once she discovers how he feels about her. Their father, a reluctant tile worker but enthusiastic inventor of devices to improve the lives of short people, provides a perfect diversion for his daughters—he needs them to come with him to Detroit to audition for a TV show. When the audition doesn't go as planned and family secrets start to come out, Linny, Van and Mr. Luong all get a chance to set aside their past failures and find a way to remake themselves. Though not all of the ideas put into play about immigration and immigrant life work themselves out, Nguyen's novel is clever and lively, a fine update to a familiar setup. (July)
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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.