Van is the dutiful Asian daughter--smart, hardworking, who finishes at the top of her class, comes to Ann Arbor, becomes a lawyer who practices idealistically in immigration law, marries another Asian lawyer, and lives in a tasteful McMansion. Linny, the beautiful daughter, is the rebel. She drops out of school, heads for Chicago where she has a series of unsuccessful and unwise relationships, then stumbles into a trade she knows nothing about.
By the end of the book, the roles have been reversed: Van is divorced and troubled; Linny has found useful work and a relationship that is healthy and is even with a good Vietnamese man. Along the way the daughters have found a way to value the experience of their father and of his Grand Rapids Vietnamese community, to understand something of what these recent immigrants have suffered to remake their lives here. Nguyen has no false heroics in Short Girls, no easy flourishes or obvious appeals. She tells her story with a straightforward clarity that becomes more moving because of its subdued tone. She writes a story about people her readers come to care about deeply even as they are looking into an American subculture they know little about.
Bich Nguyen talks about Short Girls when she joins many other authors at the daylong symposium on the "State of the Book" at U-M on October 6.
[Originally published in October, 2012.]