Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Book Review: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

A fascinating novel of family and culture mingled with mystery and bound to the story of an American icon is what you'll find in Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen.

After obtaining her PhD in American literature, a jobless Lee Lien finds herself heading home to the Chicago suburbs to work in her mother and grandfather's café. Before long, Lee's tense relationship with her overbearing mother leaves her hoping to break away from a life she always seems drawn back to. When her older brother comes home only to quickly disappear again, he leaves behind a gold-leaf brooch from their mother's past in Vietnam that stirs up the forgotten childhood dream of an American reporter who visited her grandfather's original café in Saigon in 1965. Based upon a passage from the Little House books, Lee is convinced the reporter must have been Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Could this pin link her family to one of America's most famous pioneering legacies?

Pioneer Girl dissects the intersection of culture and family. It puts under the microscope the life of immigrants and how they assimilate into American culture. But this is only part of Lee's story: the tense relationship with her mother; knowing she is not the favored child--that is reserved for her older brother, the one who should take over the family business and care for their widowed mother in her golden years; the way Lee's mother clings to the old ways while Lee as a child struggled to fit in as a Vietnamese-American; and Lee's overwhelming desire to break away while not knowing exactly what she wants or where she belongs.

Woven into Lee's family story is the well-known tale of the Ingalls family, pioneers whose journeys were chronicled in the classic Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder that Lee enjoyed as a child. Convinced the gold-leaf brooch her mother brought to America with other treasured possessions was originally left behind by Rose Wilder Lane, Lee's search brings her through library archives and Laura Ingalls Wilder museums; and a surprise discovery leads her to San Francisco where Rose one lived in an attempt to connect past and present.

Though I believe having a love for the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the Little House on the Prairie television show adds a greater depth to the enjoyment of Pioneer Girl, anyone will be captivated by this masterfully told, heartrending and inspiring story of one woman's journey to find her place within her family and to boldly embrace the future. Well-drawn characters, rich descriptions, and the exploration of physical and metaphorical frontiers help to create an outstanding novel you will remember long after you've read the last word.

Highly recommended.

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (February 6, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0670025097
ISBN-13: 978-0670025091

I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

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