Title: Short Girls
Author: Bich Minh Nguyen
Release Date: July 23, 2009
Publisher: Viking Adult
Genre: Multicultural Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
From the publisher’s website:
Van and Linny Luong are as baffling to each other as their parents’ Vietnamese legacy is to them both. Van, the quintessential overachiever, has applied the same studied diligence to her law career and marriage—a beau idéal that vaporized when Mr. Right walked out. Linny—pretty, fashionable, untethered—is grasping for purpose when her affair with a married man takes a humiliating turn. Each is the last person her sister would call, but when Mr. Luong summons them home for his American citizenship party, Van and Linny find themselves communing about their past—their late mother, their father’s obsession with his Luong Arm invention, even the irony of their romantic straits. As these unlikely confidantes chart the uncertainty that defines them, they forge a tentative new relationship and the wherewithal to overcome disappointment.
I thought Short Girls sounded like an extremely interesting book, but I didn’t make it a top priority when I received it from the publisher. I figured I would get to it eventually. However, I read a beautiful review of Short Girls at My Friend Amy’s Blog that made up my mind – I moved the book to the top of the stack and made it a point to read it as soon as possible.
I really loved Short Girls. It’s a quiet, contemplative book about so many different things. On one hand, it’s about the immigrant experience, about the Vietnamese adjusting to life in America. Linny and Van both struggle with reconciling their Vietnamese heritage with the American culture they have come to adopt as adults. The depiction of immigrant culture is very compelling; Van’s work as an immigration lawyer provides a conduit to discuss a variety of issues within this novel. Van takes her work personally; when one of her clients is deported, she feels it as deeply as if it were a member of her family.
However, Short Girls is also a novel about Linny and Van, individually as well as together. Each has their own troubles to face, though neither seems to be doing so at the beginning of the novel. They are both biding their time, trying to avoid facing the harsh realities of their lives. It is only when they begin to connect once again, when they start to rely on one another as sisters, that they have the strength to actually deal with what life has thrown at them. It’s a beautiful and moving commentary on the connection between sisters and the strength they can draw from one another.
Bich Minh Nguyen’s writing in Short Girls is simple, yet beautiful. She uses two different voices to tell her story, which is very effective. Through her writing, she gives Van and Linny their own identities. Even if you don’t pay attention to who is narrating the current chapter, it is easy to tell that simply through the tone of the writing. It’s a huge part of why the character development in Short Girls is so well done and why the book works as a character driven novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed every second I spent with Short Girls; my only regret is that there wasn’t more of it to read. Though there were many serious issues discussed within its pages, it was never heavy or difficult to read. Instead, it’s an uplifting novel, a beautiful tribute to the bond between sisters and the pull of your cultural heritage.