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Elegant, sharp-eyed, and very funny, Pioneer Girl is ultimately about how one finds kinship -- familial, cultural, literary -- that transcends the usual lexicon about identity and belonging. Navigating Vietnamese "immigrant guilt" and a stalled academic career, Lee Lien finds escape in trying to solve a literary mystery which leads her deep into her own heart and history. A wonderful read!

- Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban and King of Cuba


As a child, Lee Lien loved to imagine that her mother’s gold brooch originally belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and had been left behind in a Saigon cafe by Laura’s daughter, Rose, many years ago. Now unable to find a job after graduating with a Ph.D. in literature, Lee, the American-born daughter of Vietnamese immigrant parents, returns home to Chicago to help out with the family restaurant. This smart novel by American Book Award–winner Nguyen aptly conveys the anxieties connected to simultaneously trying to find one’s own way and live up to family expectations. When her brother Sam mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a cryptic note attached to the brooch, Lee begins looking into whether there’s any truth to her belief that the brooch’s original owner was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter. The question soon becomes an obsession, and she heads westward, eventually coming to San Francisco, searching for any small clue to the story behind the gold brooch. She must also deal with an irascible mother who believes that Lee’s Ph.D. is “a fake degree for a fake doctor,” and with returning to a life from which her degree was meant to free her. By acknowledging but not over-emphasizing how Lee’s identity has been shaped by her immigrant parents, Nguyen creates an insightful depiction of American life.

- Publisher's Weekly


[A] sincere and moving novel... a surprising synthesis of the personal and the public, the intimate and the epic, the historical and the fictional. Nguyen takes two disparate strands of our national mythology and weaves them into a powerful and wholly original American saga.

- Anthony Marra, San Francisco Chronicle

Nguyen has a perceptive understanding of the tension between mothers and daughters and the troubling insights to be gained from digging into the past. An unexpected pleasure, with a well-drawn and compelling narrator

- Kirkus Reviews


Bich Minh Nguyen's Pioneer Girl is a powerful, intimate novel that honors the legacy of one of the country's most beloved children's writers while speaking to the alienation and conflicts that mark the generational and cultural divide of Asian American families. It is a touching story about mothers and daughters overcoming emotional and physical frontiers. . . . Nguyen (Stealing Buddha's Dinner) creates a spellbinding literary mystery that reflects the Asian American immigrant experience through the lens of Little House on the Prairie.

- Nancy Powell, Shelf Awareness