At the review aggregator website Book Marks, which assigns individual ratings to book reviews from mainstream literary critics, the novel received a cumulative "Positive" rating based on 41 reviews: 22 "Rave" reviews, 14 "Positive" reviews, and 5 "Mixed" reviews.
Kirkus Reviews gave the novel a rave review, saying, "The result is an uncategorizable hybrid of what reads like memoir, bildungsroman, and book-length poem. More important than labels, though, is the novel's earnest and open-hearted belief in the necessity of stories and language for our survival. A raw and incandescently written foray into fiction by one of our most gifted poets."
Ron Charles of The Washington Post praised the novel, calling it "permanently stunning".
In his review for Time, Vietnamese-American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote, "Vuong refuses to be embarrassed. He transforms the emotional, the visceral, the individual into the political in an unforgettable–indeed, gorgeous–novel, a book that seeks to affect its readers as profoundly as Little Dog is affected".
Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Steph Cha called the novel "a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break."
Dwight Garner of The New York Times gave the novel a mixed review, writing, "Vuong's writing about nail salons, and the way mothers raised their children in them, is moving and rarely less than excellent. "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" is, at the same time, filled with showy, affected writing, with forced catharses and swollen quasi-profundities. There are enough of these that this novel’s keel can lodge in the mud."
The book was named one of the top ten books of 2019 by the Washington Post.
The book was a finalist for the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
The book was longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction.