A quick description of this book sounds highly bizarre and unlikely to hang together. A brother and sister are first generation Vietnamese Americans, struggling to find their own identities while respecting their mother and grandfather’s fierce loyalties to their heritage. As a child, our narrator loved the Little House on the Prairie series of books. She even interwove tiny details from those stories into her own life. Now an out-of-work post-doctoral academic, she has returned home while searching for a job. Her new /old surroundings rekindle familial memories and tensions. As an adult, she has reason to believe she actually does have a slight connection to the Depression Era writer a half a world away.
Nguyen’s writing is clear and succinct. It does take about 40 pages to get going, but once it does, it is fast-paced and engaging. Her “list” descriptions of nondescript midwestern living are spot-on:
And, as always, were were renters. First apartment, then duplexes, and finally a whole house: your standard middling ranch, bricked, carpeted, and vinyled, in a neighborhood where tricycles were left to rust in the winter, TV satellite dished clung like bats to eaves, and empty houses still had Beware of Dog signs stuck to mental fences. ~Loc. 281
Despite the narrator’s entirely different upbringing, I could easily relate. My grandmother read me to sleep with the Laura Ingalls books. Of course, my grandmother only lived a couple of decades later than some of those stories. I think she enjoyed sharing stories about the days when people still made quilts and knew how to make jam, and you helped your neighbor bring in the hay so they would help you bale yours. Regardless of the reader’s own heritage, there is a universal desire to know something about one ancestors, and it is this that is the underlying theme.
Thanks to Rebecca at Viking for the e-galley copy.
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (February 6, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches