Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

**Thank you Penguin and Netgalley for providing this in exchange for an honest review**

 

Lee is a second generation Vietnamese American who is trying to find her place in the world. She has recently finished her PhD, and like many recent graduates of her generation, can't find employment. After awhile, she admits defeat and returns home. While this never part of anyone's plan, most people would receive a sense of comfort from returning. Most people would receive support from their parents. They would be returning to home, a safe place where they can be themselves and know they would be accepted. Unfortunately, home doesn't feel that way for Lee. Her mother is a first generation Vietnamese American and still lives by many of the traditions and rules of her mother country. She puts her son up on a pedestal, while Lee feels she is treated like a second class child because she is the second child, and even worse, a girl. Her brother, Sam, is given cars, money, and one day will be given whatever business their mother happens to own at the time. All this even though Sam has repeatedly stolen from their mother and leaves the family without warning. Even though Lee and her mother have a rocky, at best, relationship, Lee has always tried to do right for her family. The one saving grace for her at home is her Ong Hai. He has always showed her love, respect, and support. He has always tried to keep the household as peaceful as possible. He understands why his daughter can't let go of the traditions she grew up with, but he also understands why they make Lee feel trapped.

 

Ong Hai is the one who plants the seed that will begin Lee on her journey. In 1965, Ong Hai owned at cafe called Cafe 88 in Saigon. One day a American women steps in the cafe. Her name was Rose, and she was a reporter sent to write about the war from a women's perspective. Ong Hai is delighted when the women continues to return to hear more of his stories. On her last visit, Rose leaves a gold pin behind. Ong Hai saves the pin, but Rose never returns for it. The pin is one of the few things Ong Hai and Lee's mother bring with them to America. It is this little pin that will send Lee on here back and forth journey to find out the true history of the pin, and maybe find her self along the way.

 

Ok, confession time. I have never read any of the Little House on the Prairie books or watched the show. I vaguely remember reading parts of Farmer Boy in 4th grade class and it boring me to tears. I never felt the urge to seek out anything to do with the series after that. I might have liked the story more if I had, but even as a non-LHotP fan, I still enjoyed it. My sister is going through the same thing as Lee profession wise. She has just completed her Masters (is going for PhD), and she can't find anything out there. She is still working as a waitress and has had to return home a few times when tips just weren't paying the bills. I can easily see Lee's frustration and the little amounts of defeat Lee feels every time my sister has to turn home. You spend years going on almost no sleep just so you can go to college and work. You're always tired, stressed, and just one frozen burrito away from a mini-freak out. And what do you have to show for it when you graduate? You're back home working at the same restaurant you were at before all of it. It was really easy for me to connect with Lee because of that. I can't imagine how someone could deals with the normal stress of college life along with the added cultural pressures some second generation Americans must receive from their families.

 

Well worth the read. I really enjoyed Nguyen's storytelling and plan to read her Short Girls novel soon.