Short Girls by Bich Ming Nguyen

Bich Minh Nguyen’s Short Girls is a story of Vietnamese, second-generation immigrants Linny and Van Luong and their family.  Their father, a loner and inventor, holding them at arms length, and their familial history is obscured by stories and silence.  The story is broken into alternating chapters about each young woman, though written in a point of view that is more like an observer with each woman’s inner thoughts are revealed —  much of this complaints or observations about how different they are from one another.

“The Luongs had always done this, scratching at each other’s words as much out of habit as anything.  But this time when Thuy Luong had told her husband to go sleep in the basement “like a dog”he stayed there instead of slinking back upstairs.”  (Page 4 of ARC)

Van is an immigration lawyer with the “perfect” life, or at least that’s how it seems to her sister, Linny.  Linny, on the other hand, has a free life where she can act and do as she desires on a whim without responsibility — at least that’s how it seems to her sister.  The tension between these sisters is vivid, but in many ways could have been better executed without the internal dialogue complaints about the other sister at every turn or before each memory surfaced to demonstrate their differences.

“She would have set the glass to shattering, sailed through someone else’s house, used up all the space that humans never reached.”  (Page 53 of ARC)

Van’s world has been falling apart slowly, and now she is set adrift without a compass and without a husband.  She struggles to keep her drama to herself and to overcome the emptiness in her home and her life.  Meanwhile, Linny has to come to grips with her errors and her drifting life to make her dreams come true, while at the same time support her sister and her father, who continues to struggle to find success.

“Linny put in long hours experimenting shadows and liners, trying to make her eyes look bigger, deeper-set, less Asian.  She painted plum colors up to her eyebrows and applied three coats of mascara.  She ran peroxide-soaked cotton balls through her hair to create caramel highlights.”  (Page 58 of ARC)

Nguyen’s Short Girls is a look at racial discrimination, height discrimination, immigrants looking for their place in a society that welcomes and shuns them, and finding once self amid the melting pot and one’s own family, while trying to accept your family’s own faults and ideas about success and love.

 This is my 20th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Library Thing Early Reviewers and the Viking for sending me a free copy of Short Girls for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. S. Krishna says

    I actually really loved this book, I'm sorry you didn't! Great review though.

  2. Book Dilettante says

    Thanks for introducing us to this book. Sounds very worthwhile.
    Harvee Book Dilettante

  3. I read Bich's memoir and saw her speak at my local library. She is a very interesting person! I'll have to read this book too.

  4. Tribute Books says

    I might try this one, thanks!

  5. DCMetroreader says

    I generally need a compelling plot to read a book, but the height discrimination angle intrigues me (never really thought about this before).

  6. Jill: They do talk about tall girls having to face problems as well, but that is only mentioned a few times. Maybe you should write a book about the tall girls' dilemma.

  7. rhapsodyinbooks says

    I've heard a lot about this book. Even though it isn't "great," it's good that we're starting to get books about the Vietnamese experience. (And I would like to add, I always felt discrimination as a "tall" girl! At least when it came to available boys!)

  8. Kathy: I agree. Some plot would be nice. I like character studies on occasion, but this one didn't work for me.

  9. bermudaonion says

    I love the fact that it's a book about immigration and it touches on some real issues, but, like Anna, I do enjoy some plot in my books.

  10. It was an OK book; I just don't think I was the target reader for this one. While the characters evolved, the actual transformation was very muted because of the shifts in POV and consistent whining about their sibling or their father.

  11. I'm not sure about this one. Doesn't seem like there's much plot. And I have to be in the mood for an extensive character study. Thanks for the review!

    Diary of an Eccentric