From Publishers Weekly
Nguyen was just eight months old when her father brought her and her sister out of Vietnam in 1975. The family relocated in Michigan, where young Bich (pronounced "bit") wrestled with conflicting desires for her grandmother's native cooking and the American junk food the "real people" around her ate. The fascination with Pringles and Happy Meals is one symptom of the memoir's frequent reliance on the surface details of pop culture to generate verisimilitude instead of digging deeper into the emotional realities of her family drama, which plays out as her father drinks and broods and her stepmother, Rosa, tries to maintain a tight discipline. Readers are inundated with the songs Nguyen heard on the radio and the TV shows she watched—even her childhood thoughts about Little House on the Prairie
—but tantalizing questions about her family remain unresolved, like why her father and stepmother continued to live together after their divorce. The mother left behind in Saigon is a shadowy presence who only comes into view briefly toward the end, another line of inquiry Nguyen chooses not to pursue too deeply. The passages that most intensely describe Nguyen's childhood desire to assimilate compensate somewhat for such gaps, but the overall impression is muted. (Feb. 5)
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Bich Minh Nguyen's humorous coming-of-age tale mines themes of loss and identity by cleverly retelling anecdotes in chapters dealing withor gleefully obsessing over?particular American foods. Her prose is engaging, and half the fun is reliving with her the pop culture of the 1980s. Rosa's role as "mom"/tyrant/activist is rich and resonating, but critics were split over the effect of Nguyen's birth mother, whose fleeting appearance is powerful but unexplained. The novel's chronology also caused some confusion. Still, this impressive book, Nguyen's first, won the PEN/Jerard Award and sets the stage for a much-anticipated follow-up from this professor of literature and creative writing at Purdue. Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.