“A powerful and wholly original American saga.” —San Francisco Chronicle
Bich Minh Nguyen’s previous books—the acclaimed memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner and the American Book Award–winning novel Short Girls—established her talents as a writer of keen cultural observation. In Pioneer Girl, Nguyen entwines the Asian American experience with the escapist pleasures of literature, in a dazzling mystery about the origins of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie.
Lee Lien has long dodged her Vietnamese family’s rigid expectations by immersing herself in books. But now, jobless with a PhD in literature, she is back at home, working in her family’s restaurant under her mother’s hypercritical gaze—until an heirloom from their past sends Lee on a search for clues that may lead back to Wilder herself, transforming strangers’ lives as well as her own.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Reading Group Guide
1. What prevents Lee from completing her dissertation? Why does she return home instead of getting a non-academic job and an apartment somewhere else?
2. Is Hieu the reason Tran and Ong Hai keep the family in the Midwest? Would Sam have engaged in delinquent behavior if he grew up in California, where he wasn’t such an obvious minority?
3. Does Tran’s favoritism ultimately help or hurt her children?
4. Is Lee denying her heritage by studying Edith Wharton instead of Asian American literature? What are the pros and cons of studying an author’s work from an outsider’s perspective?
5. Discuss some of the ways in which Lee uses food as a cultural metaphor. How can a desire for authenticity sometimes be an expression of racist stereotyping?
6. What is the nature of Lee’s relationship with Alex? How does it change over the course of the novel?
7. Are Lee’s thefts justified by the mystery she is attempting to solve? Since she can never definitively prove either that the pin belonged to Rose or that Rose put a child up for adoption, why is she so driven to learn the truth?
8. Is Greg better off for learning that he may be related to Rose Wilder? If you were in his position, would you want to know?
9. Do you share Lee’s love for the Little House stories? If so, what drew you to the books?
10. In what ways does Pioneer Girl affect your understanding of the Little House series?
11. What are some ways in which Lee’s experiences parallel Laura Ingalls Wilder’s? Does Lee ultimately have more in common with Laura or Rose?
12. If you’ve read Bich Minh Nguyen’s other books, what are some of the dominant themes in her work?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
“Pioneer Girl” is an absolutely wonderful novel about a Vietnamese woman born to immigrant parents in the 1970s. As a child, Lee Lien was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books as she and her family moved from place to place, looking for a better life. As an adult, she begins to trail a story that goes back to her mother’s childhood in Saigon. The search for the full story makes for a wonderful literary mystery that would be enough to make a good read on its own. However, there is much more. Soon Lee, and the reader, begins to connect the lives of her family with those of the Wilders. The search for a better life is something that spans all cultures and generations, and never has book so captured the American Dream as eloquently as “Pioneer Girl”. It is something unchanging, and will hopefully be embraced and extended to all of those yet to come. Don’t we all want what is best for those we love? I learned more about Vietnamese culture than all of what I knew previously combined. It was extremely educational, and I don’t think I will ever be able to eat at a Chinese Buffet again. More diverse books are desperately needed, and this is an excellent addition toward that goal of universal diversity. Thank you to the author for your work. I recommend “Pioneer Girl”. While it is an adult book, the subject matter can be appreciated by upper middle graders and up. It will be extra enjoyable to all “Little House on the Prairie” fans. This review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Lee Lien has just earned her PhD in English, but has no immediate job prospects. Upon returning home, she is forced to face her tenuous family relationships and learn to balance her own aspirations with family responsibilities. As a second-generation Vietnamese-American, this also includes figuring out how to reconcile cultural differences between her and her mother. When Lee stumbles upon a pin left behind by an American reporter in Saigon during her mother's childhood, she remembers reading about a pin with its exact description in one of the Little House books. Suspecting that the American reporter from her mother's past may have been Rose Wilder Lane, Lee embarks on an academic adventure that proves to be far more of a personal journey than she expected. Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose aren't exactly the focus of Pioneer Girl; rather, they are the context through which Lee faces her own issues. The relationship between Lee and her mother often mirrors that between Rose and Laura. There is an interesting parallel between the lives of pioneers and immigrants as well. My only problems with the novel were one random, short-lived and out-of-the-blue romantic scene that felt completely out of place, and a nonchalance toward the main character's instances of petty theft. There is a sense of ennui throughout the novel, even through the end, but I think it works. Other than that, I thought the novel had a very enjoyable writing style, a cultural perspective that kept me engaged throughout, and characters with complex relationships and motives. Pioneer Girl is a unique spin on the second-generation immigrant coming-of-age story. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.