Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

the lowdown

Lydia is dead. She's dead and she's at the bottom of the lake in town. Lydia is the middle daughter of James and Marilyn Lee, who live in Ohio in the 1970s. James, a history professor is of Chinese decent, while Marilyn is blue-eyed and blonde haired. All of the lives of the Lee family revolve around Lydia, and when she's dead, the delicate balance they struck crumbles to pieces.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and the way in which I did. I was expecting this to be much more about Lydia and her death, but it was far more of a family drama, a very delicate and well crafted one at that. Ng isn't heavy handed although she writes about some tough situations. While I was definitely interested to find out what happened to Lydia (and you do), I was far more interested to see how the family dynamics would turn out as the family learned to navigate their new dynamic without her. Still, I had certain frustrations with this book and I don't think I was as enamored with it as other folks out there. That being said, this one is definitely worth a read.

the good
  • Ng employs a certain subtly and nuance that I think few other contemporary family dramas offer. Told alternating between the time before Lydia dies and the weeks after, Ng offers us a glimpse into how a family dynamic can be predicated on an entire person, and how that dynamic falls apart when that person is gone, as well as the trials of expectations, racial identity, marriage, and family. If not anything else, this is book is a family portrait.       
  • It was incredible and also gut wrenching to see the way this entire family was built around Lydia, each having their own expectations for her, and the way that it all fell apart when she died. Although sometimes deeply saddening, the different storylines that Ng wove and the way in which they all interacted were expertly crafted.                                                                 
the bad
  • The ending felt a little anticlimactic to me. While I can't say much without giving the story away, I will say that I think that the ending exhibited the same kind of nuance that I appreciated as the story was building. I was looking for a big, powerful ending, and I don't think this book delivered on that front. Given the way in which Ng built the story and weaved the family members together, the ending, sweet but still subtle, suited the story well.
the quote

“What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.”

skip it/borrow it/buy it

Definitely make a point of reading this one. This is one of those books that sticks with you without needing to reread it, however. Borrow it.

overall score:8/10

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