Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

genre: historicalish (is the 70s considered historical?) mystery

The first thing we learn about Lydia is that she is dead. We know this fact even before her parents have heard the news. And while we soon know where she was found and we slowly learn about her last days, what we mostly have to untangle is the web and weave of her bi-racial family, living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. Of course, their story doesn't really start there. It starts with two intelligent people, one the daughter of a white single mom and the other the son of Chinese immigrants,  and their decision to try to make a life together, ready for their love to be enough to insulate them from lost dreams and the hatred you can feel from the world around you when you are different.

This book is astonishing because it delves delves into that tiny pieces that shape our expectations for ourselves and for each other. Astonishing because it tugs at the threads of the relationships between parents and children, the way that this interplay molds us and changes us, usually in ways that no one anticipates or intends.

As someone who rarely, if ever, picks up a book with the death of a young girl at its core, Everything I Never Told You engaged me with its gentle yet painful quest to peel back the layers of a family.  It didn't feel like a murder mystery so much as a portrait of a group of people who lived in the same house, whose lives revolved around each other yet their individual truths somehow never managed to be in the same place at the same time.

The one major drawback, of course, is that it is only ever sad.  People make poor choices, completely misunderstand each other and make very regrettable mistakes.  Blatant or underhanded racism and misogyny is painful to read about.  A daughter is dead.  With a fifteen year old daughter myself, I had a lot to sort through in my own emotions and choices, and that isn't particularly comfortable either.  Despite these hard things, or maybe because of them, the book gets five stars from me because it stretched me and makes me want to live my life a little more kindly and deliberately.  Five stars for the almost poetic prose and a conclusion that, while not full of sunshine and rainbows, felt right and redemptive enough to be satisfying.

note: language and some mild sexual encounters

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