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Pioneer Girl

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  1,791 ratings  ·  370 reviews
Jobless with a PhD, Lee Lien returns home to her Chicago suburb from grad school, only to find herself contending with issues she’s evaded since college. But when her brother disappears, he leaves behind an object from their mother’s Vietnam past that stirs up a forgotten childhood dream: a gold-leaf brooch, abandoned by an American reporter in Saigon back in 1965, that mi ...more
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published February 6th 2014 by Viking
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Wendy I agree it was sudden... there was a slight hint when his leg touched hers on the ferry. I did like how their relationship developed, however. They se…moreI agree it was sudden... there was a slight hint when his leg touched hers on the ferry. I did like how their relationship developed, however. They seemed to really get along well (she mentions that, too)

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Average rating 3.38  · 
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 ·  1,791 ratings  ·  370 reviews

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Jan 12, 2015 rated it really liked it

Note: My thoughts are all over the place after finishing this book and my review may reflect that, sorry for random ramblings. I hope you get the gist.

Ever since I was a little kid, any mention of pioneers drew me in. Apparently I am still that same girl that becomes rapt with attention at the mention of anything from the “olden days”. I rarely read entire synopsis's of books since I feel that they often give way too much away, so when picking out books I read the back page's descriptions of boo
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If this intriguing layered novel only told the family focused story of Lee Lien, a book-nerdy young woman with an on-hold academic career trying to straddle the contrasting cultures and conflicting expectations of modern America, where she was born, and traditional pre-war Vietnam, where her strong-willed mother and gracious grandfather spent the earlier parts of their lives, that would have been enough to capture my interest.

If instead Pioneer Girl was simply a literary mystery, with Lee Lien
Jennifer Donovan
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: review-copies, 2014
Fans of Little House on the Prairie, owners of the boxed set (either pale blue like mine or pale yellow if you are a bit younger than I), as I am, will be charmed by parts of this book.

I was. But it wasn't quite enough. In fact, the memoir The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie gave me those same feelings, but in a more cohesive unit. This "novel" felt derivative of that.

I put novel in quotes because it really reads like a memoir, from the long ambling pa
This was a cute book with ties to The Little House on the Prarie. I grew up reading those books with my mom and sister, so I knew I would like this. Vietnamese American woman coming to terms with her mothers passing, a surprising object and a missing brother. Right up my alley kind of book.
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
The story of Lee Lien, a second generation Vietnamese American was very frustrating. There is a lot of repetition-- she fights with her mother and loses, she fights with her brother and loses, she thinks about her family history, but never digs too deeply.

Lien (a thinly fictionalized version of the author) delves into the story of Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Nguyen here retreads old scholars, particularly the author of The Ghost in the Little House. There is nothing
Diane S ☔
Jul 03, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting look at second generation immigrants from Viet Nam. Lee Lien was always looking for home, her mother and grandfather ran
Chinese buffets alternately owning their own strip mall Chinese restaurants. They went from one place in the Midwest to another and Lee and her brother Sam disdained their way of life.

Lee, after a story her grandfather told about Rose Wilder Lane and a piece of jewelry she left in their place of business in Vietnam, starts piecing together the life of Laura and
I honestly thought Pioneer Girl was nonfiction; I really did. Somehow the very clear “a novel” printed on the front cover of the book escaped me completely. Imagine my surprise to find that, though this book has all the trappings of a memoir, Bich Minh Nguyen actually telling a quite made-up story. It took me a little while to realize that, but once it did, my approach and perspective in reading this book shifted dramatically.

Because, what I thought was going to be an investigative look into Lau
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-goal
I love a surprise, especially when one appears between the pages of a book.

First— a confession. Like the main character Lee, the Little House on the Prairie books were some of the first I read... or more like devoured. I still remember receiving the first one for my 8th birthday. I think my mom wanted to encourage a shy young girl to read more. She had no idea that books would become, and remain, that child’s number one occupation. And for that I am forever grateful. Oh the countless happy hour
**Thank you Penguin and Netgalley for providing this in exchange for an honest review**

3.5 Stars

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
Jul 29, 2017 added it
Shelves: read-in-2017
After reading the Little House books last summer, it really made me wonder if those books had meaning to girls who weren't middle class and white Americans. And that's sort of at the premise of this book, though this is about a woman who has just completed her PhD and begins to see the ways her life mirrors much of Rose Wilder, Laura's mother. Lee is Vietnamese American who finds herself back at home helping her mother and grandfather run the family restaurant. She dreams of finding her way out ...more
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At first, I wanted to love Pioneer Girl. I then settled for wanting to like it. It has an interesting premise: A Vietnamese coming-of-age story with a Little House connection. Lee grew up reading the Little House books. She may not want to admit to liking or loving the TV show, but, the books she loves, has always loved. Her parents came from Vietnam to America in the 1970s. She was born and raised in the Midwest. Her parents, particularly her mother and her grandfather, were almost always in th ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
4, maybe even 4.5.

I saw this book at the university library when I was looking for a different book. I was drawn by the cover--I loved the artwork on it. I didn't actually check it out because the jacket copy tied it so intimately to Little House on the Prairie, and I read one of those book as a kid, but I was like, how much do I really care about someone's ties to that book? But the next time I was in the library it still seemed to be calling to me, so I went ahead and checked it out.

I'm really
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
“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 mu
Sarah Hannah
At times a bit dull, but mostly a great read that weaves a believable ending to Rose Wilder Lane's life, though it fluffed over her more assholish libertarian beliefs. The novel does really speak to me as a fellow nonwhite girl who was obsessed with Little House growing up, while being all too aware of its problems and knowing full well it didn't love us back. I obviously also found myself in the academic struggles, even though I'm not even at comps yet. I'm curious if the parallels of mother-da ...more
Jan 30, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhere between a 4 and a 5 for me. The narrative was incredible, and read more realistically than some memoirs I've read. I kept having to remind myself that it was a novel. But at the same time, the threads pulled at each other a little too much sometimes and felt a little thin. That said, I still loved this book, and what it says about the American Dream and who is an American and what that actually means was really profound, all through the lens of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family.
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Pioneer Girl offers a refreshing take on the “what if?” story. Nguyen uniquely links together the Vietnam War and the Little House series. I was completely drawn-in from the first page. I would highly recommend this book!
Jul 01, 2018 rated it liked it
“Where does it stop? Does it ever? I want to believe it all leads to something grander than the imagination, grander than the end-of stop of the Pacific. Or is that it; You get to the place where you land; you are tired now; you settle.”

I bought this book on a total whim, knowing nothing about it. I was ever so pleasantly surprised to find it about a recent PhD graduate whose obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her own Vietnamese family history intersect in an interesting way. In fact, I re
edited January, 2015: my reread

this review goes live on the blog 02/03 along with a giveaway!

Shortly after obtaining her PhD yet still unable to find a job, Lee Lien returns home. Her relationship with her mother is frosty at best, yet her beloved grandfather always finds a way to smooth things over. The family's latest restaurant, the Lotus Leaf, has a steady string of customers, and Lee is more than ready to try a few changes, switch things around in an attempt to really get business booming.
Trish at Between My Lines
This review was originally posted on Between My Lines

Hands up, I have to admit that I ADORE The Little House on the Prairie- both the books and the TV show.  I read these with my mother and they are the ultimate in comfort books for me.  So as soon as I saw Pioneer Girl, I knew I needed it in my paws!

First Line of Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
“In August 1965 a woman named Rose walked into my granfather’s cafe in Saigon.”
My Thoughts on Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen:
Kelly Hager
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it

You remember that fairly recently I mainlined my way through the Little House on the Prairie books which, somehow, I managed to not read as a child. This book managed to bring the delight of that back.

Granted, it's more about Lee's life and family but there are obviously a lot of parts that deal with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose. This book is so smart and funny and touching, and I absolutely loved Lee.

I love the idea that you could somehow find a connection in your life
Margaret Sullivan
Feb 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I must be really dumb, because it took me a third of this book to figure out that it was fiction, despite "A NOVEL" right there on the cover. I don't normally like most memoirs, so the fact that I was riveted from page one should have been a clue. This is an imaginative conception of how the world of the child of Vietnamese immigrants could intersect with that of the uber-American Little House books. I am not as on-board as the author (or at least the narrator) seemed to be with Rose's heavy han ...more
May 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audiobook, book-club
Having grown up in the Bay Area with a lot of second generation Vietnamese friends, some who even ran restaurants, I connected more with that aspect of the story more than the Little House references. And were the Little House references true? Was that part of the story real? The story didn't feel complete in any way, there were absolutely no conclusions to any of the plot lines, not one. It could have been really interesting but basically fell flat leaving me only with a craving for Banh Mi san ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really dug this; lots of moving parts and I liked the way they fit together. The comments on academia seemed as deeply true as the comments on being first generation and on being part of a restaurant family. As far as I remember (it's been a few months), the Laura Ingalls Wilder info was close to excellent, but Nguyen was definitely more of a Rose Wilder Lane admirer than I'll ever be. Still, it comes across as a valid viewpoint, and I'm a Rose-hater, so.
Jane A-z
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a treat: a novel that’s smart and yet not soul-crushing, in prose that’s breezy and unpretentious and yet not graceless. I had never heard of it, stumbled on it by chance, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Many of its themes and plot points have been explored before, to be sure. Burning out of academia; boomeranging to your childhood home. Relationships between strait-laced sisters and drifter brothers; between stubborn mothers and stubborn daughters; between Midwesterners and coastal city dwellers
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the book, at heart it had a great biography about Rose Wilder Lane and a great analysis of what made her tick. I have read so many secondary texts about Rose and Laura, but this one was really able to synthesize the material in a good and interesting way. It was interesting how the author was able to contrast Rose's life to her life and how she grew up/ her relationship with her mom. I never understand a family like theirs where the one child gets away with things but not the ot ...more
Amy Anderson
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Beth Nguyen does a masterful job of connecting the immigrants of the 19th Century--notably, the family of Laura Ingalls Wilder--with the immigrants of today. Her description of growing up in the Vietnamese diaspora is moving and real, and her descriptions of life in the Midwest are spot on.
Jan 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
After reading Prairie Fires, I wanted to continue with my Laura Ingalls Wilder reading quest. This fictional book traces a brooch that Rose, Laura's daughter, left in Vietnam while on assignment for a newspaper. Lee's attempts to track down more information takes her to many of the places that both Laura and Rose lived.

Also provides a heartbreaking, at times, look into Lee's family dynamics (immigrant Vietnamese family).

Susan Howson
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
My strategy of knowing nothing about a book before I read it sure led to an extremely pleasant and on-brand surprise as the plot unfolded.
Oct 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I suppose there wasn’t much plot to this book, but then again neither was there in the Little House series. Mostly I appreciated the perspective of somebody whose family is not rooted in 19th century tradition; if there’s one thing Little House lacks, it’s diversity. If there’s another, it’s intercultural acceptance. Those books are centered on familial experience, on the “discovery” of a new land and the escaping the foreign new people encroaching on the old territory. While this book didn’t ha ...more
Nicole Overmoyer
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The first books I ever remember having read to me were the “Little House on the Prairie” series. The first chapter books I read on my own were the “Little House on the Prairie” series. I watched every episode of the television show and still know the plots of many of them, though they have little relation to the books I’ve read to the point of being dog-eared.

The point is, when I saw the cover of Bich Minh Nguyen’s PIONEER GIRL, I was hooked.

I wanted to be Laura growing up. Why wouldn’t I want t
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Play Book Tag: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen 2 stars 1 7 Apr 14, 2019 10:20AM  

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Bich Minh Nguyen received the PEN/Jerard Award for her memoir Stealing Buddhas Dinner, which was a Chicago Tribune Best Book of 2007 and a BookSense pick. It was also selected as The Great Michigan Read for 2009-2010. Bich has appeared on programs such as The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. She lives in Chicago and Indiana, where she teaches literature and creative writing at Purdue University.

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16 likes · 9 comments
“Everyone is always leaving each other, chasing down the next seeming opportunity—home or body. Where does it stop? Does it ever? I want to believe it all leads to something grander than the imagination, grander than the end-stop of the Pacific. Or is that it: You get to the place where you land; you are tired now; you settle. You settle. You build a home and raise a family. There are years of eating and arguing, working and waking. There are years of dying. No one knows what the last image will be.” 5 likes
“I looked back all the time, too much, too often. Like Rose, I would be circling my mother the rest of my life.” 2 likes
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