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Sunshine Nails


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About The Book

A tender and funny debut about a Vietnamese Canadian family who will do whatever it takes to keep their no-frills nail salon afloat after a multimillion-dollar chain opens across the street.

Vietnamese refugees Debbie and Phil Tran have made a good life for themselves in Toronto, but their landlord has just jacked up the rent of their family-run nail salon, Sunshine Nails, and it’s way more than they can afford. When Take Ten, a glamorous chain offering a more luxurious salon experience, moves into the neighborhood, the Tran family is terrified of losing their business—and the community they’ve built around them.

But daughter Jessica comes to their rescue. She’s just moved back home after a messy breakup and an even messier firing. Together with her workaholic brother, Dustin, and recently immigrated cousin, Thuy, they devise some good old-fashioned sabotage. But as the line between right and wrong gets blurred, relationships are put to the test, and Debbie and Phil must choose: Do they keep their family intact or fight for their salon?

Full of memorable manicures and even more memorable characters, Sunshine Nails is a humorous and heartfelt novel about family, resilience, and what it means to start over.


Chapter One: Debbie CHAPTER ONE Debbie
If Debbie Tran could go back in time, she would stop herself from reading that damn Yelp review.

It had been such a lovely day up until that point. She’d made offerings of mandarins and daffodils to the altar, cooked all her family’s favorites, and cleaned the entire house. In a few hours, her eldest child would be coming home for good. Nobody in the family knew exactly why, but it didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Eight years ago, Jessica moved to Los Angeles for love and a job, and now she had neither. Whatever the reason, Debbie didn’t care. She was so thrilled Jessica was returning that she happily paid for the flight.

Debbie pulled out her tablet and did what she always did whenever her children got on a plane: tracked the path of the flight. As she watched that little green plane inch closer and closer to Toronto, that’s when that stupid notification popped up at the top of the screen.

You’ve received a new review.

Without thinking, Debbie clicked on it and a big fat one-star review appeared on the screen.

I came to the salon for a manicure and pedicure on the weekend. The lady who was working on me was SO rude and she had disgusting black gunk underneath her fingernails. They were so long and unkempt. It was gross. She also cut my nails too short when I specifically told her “not too short.” She doesn’t speak English that well so she probably didn’t understand me. Still, SO UNPROFESSIONAL. I’m never going back again!!! Can’t wait till that new salon opens nearby. Bet it’s light years better than this one!

Debbie looked at her nails. Okay, so they were a little dry and her cuticles a little overgrown, but by no means was there any “disgusting black gunk” underneath her nails. She washed her hands so often that cracks had formed on her fingertips. Besides, in her twenty years of running the salon, not one single person had ever complained about this.

And what was this about a new salon? There was no other nail salon in the area for miles. This person had to have been mistaken. Debbie checked their overall rating. The review dropped Sunshine Nails from four stars to three stars.

That bitch.

She checked the flight status again. Jessica’s plane was going to land any minute now. It would take her another hour or so to get through customs, baggage claim, and traffic on the highway. Phil and Thuy were still at the salon. Dustin would be home from work soon. She needed to fix herself up. Wash her hair, put on some makeup, pick an outfit that—

Not too short? How dare that person assume she didn’t know English. She’d lived in Toronto for over thirty years, took ESL for those first two, and aced all the tests. In fact, she did so well she was invited to come back as a guest speaker to show the new cohort what a success story she was. Too short? Next time that woman came into the salon Debbie would show her what too short really looked like.

It wasn’t like Sunshine Nails had never gotten negative feedback. They’d been slammed on everything from the decor (“A bit tacky but in a charming kind of way”) to the lack of air-conditioning (“Felt like I was stranded in the Arabian Desert!”) to the service (“The staff was impersonal and abrupt”).

But there was a difference between constructive criticism and personal attack. And this latest review was clearly an attack on their livelihood.

Debbie was just glad her husband didn’t see it. Phil got even more worked up over these things than she did. Once, he stayed up until three in the morning responding to every single negative review he could find. They were not professional or eloquent responses by any measure, but they had worked too hard, sacrificed too much, to let some ungrateful people get away with saying nasty things about their salon.

Debbie looked at herself in the mirror. She couldn’t greet her daughter like this, all angry and a mess.

A bath. That’s how she would calm down. She wasn’t going to let this review suck all the joy out of this special day. She didn’t even remember working on someone named Erin. Maybe it was one of those internet phenomena Dustin had warned her about. What was it again? A troll. Yes, that must be it. It had to be a troll.

While soaking in the tub, she thought about all the times she felt wronged in her life. There were too many to count. Bloodthirsty communists forcing her out of Vietnam was one. Being thrown onto a perilously overcrowded boat on the South China Sea was another. This one-star review? It was up there, too.

As she sank a little deeper into the warm bath, she turned her white jade ring round and round on her finger. That ring was as much a part of her body as her organs. It never left her hand, not since that treacherous voyage of 1983. When those pirates ransacked the boat and abducted the prettiest girls, Debbie instinctively tucked the ring underneath her upper lip and prayed the pirates would see her simple, undecorated body and leave her alone. They took one look at her, spat on her face, then moved along. To this day, Debbie swore the ring saved her life all those years ago. Tonight, she prayed it would bring her the peace she needed in time for her daughter’s homecoming.

As her calluses began to soften in the warm water, so did her resolve to punish whoever this person was. She closed her eyes and focused on her breath. In and out. In and out. She tried very hard to let nothing and nobody penetrate her thoughts now.

But Erin’s words were like a hangnail that wouldn’t go away. She couldn’t let it go. How could she when it felt like someone had just shit on everything she’d worked so hard for? Debbie sat up straight in the tub, reached for the tablet, and typed up a response.

I have never met you before in my life. This review is a complete fabrication. Furthermore, we have never once had a complaint about our staff’s hygiene. We take very good care of our customers and take their concerns seriously. You, however, are a liar and you should be ashamed of yourself. P.S. How is my English now?

As soon as she hit that publish button, she felt euphoric. Then came the notification. Jessica’s flight had landed.

About The Author

Photograph by Lucy Doan

Mai Nguyen is a National Magazine Award–nominated journalist and copywriter who has written for Wired, The Washington Post, The Toronto Star, and several major brands. Raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she now lives in Toronto. Sunshine Nails is her debut novel. Visit her at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 4, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668011256

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Raves and Reviews

“Filled with heart and humour, Sunshine Nails is an insightful, moving story with striking depth, taking on gentrification, family expectations, and generational differences. You will be rooting for the Tran family through every risk and sacrifice they make to save their salon and, ultimately, themselves. Mai Nguyen has proven herself to be a real standout.”
TAYLOR JENKINS REID, New York Times bestselling author of Carrie Soto Is Back and Malibu Rising

“The story of the Tran family is full of zany, hilarious fun—but it’s also poignant and told with care. Sunshine Nails made me laugh, cry, and think deeply about culture, family, and the ties that bind. What a witty and engaging debut—I was thoroughly charmed!”
MARISSA STAPLEY, New York Times bestselling author of Lucky (Reese’s Book Club pick)

“A phenomenal debut . . . This page-turning story about the Tran family’s desperate attempts to keep their nail salon in business will have you rooting for them as often as you shake your head. It’s a delightful romp, with keen social commentary and writing that simply sparkles. Put it on your summer reading list ASAP!”
CARLEY FORTUNE, New York Times bestselling author of Every Summer After and Meet Me at the Lake

“A whip-smart and hilarious David versus Goliath romp. The Tran family will have you biting your nails as they claw at their competition and each other. Will they survive? Or will they lie forever in the proverbial nail bed that they made? But the Vietnamese diaspora will always find their way back home—even if they lose an eyelash or two along the way.”
CAROLYN HUYNH, author of The Fortunes of Jaded Women (GMA Book Club pick)

“[O]ne of the treats of summer.”
Toronto Star

“Nguyen truly sparkles in this hilarious, poignant, and utterly engrossing comedy of Vietnamese diaspora, gentrification, class, race, and the millennial pressures of finding oneself among overbearing family members. . . . With an abundance of wit, heart, and cleverness, Nguyen explores the complex realities of kinship and belonging faced by Asian immigrants. I loved it.”
LINDSAY WONG, award-winning author of The Woo-Woo and Tell Me Pleasant Things about Immortality

“An uplifting story about family, acceptance, and moving forward . . . Sunshine Nails is a heartwarming and colourful debut, proving Mai Nguyen to be an exciting new voice in fiction.”
SONYA LALLI, author of A Holly Jolly Diwali and Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat

“Lighthearted and funny while also shrewdly addressing complex topics like gentrification and anti-Asian racism. I loved the Tran family and their bright, compelling story.”
EMILY AUSTIN, author of Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

“A fresh, fun take on family dynamics and the secrets we keep to protect each other. Well-defined characters and deft navigation of the highs and lows of the immigrant experience make this book a delightful read. Nguyen’s writing sparkles—I can’t wait to tell everyone about this!”
SIERRA GODFREY, author of A Very Typical Family

“A compelling exploration of family, identity, and community. Readers everywhere will root for the Tran family as they navigate love and work. Told with a rare blend of humour and insight, this delightful story shows that Mai Nguyen is a writer to watch!”
SAUMYA DAVE, author of What a Happy Family and Well-Behaved Indian Women

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