Sunday, September 25, 2016

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NG

For a debut novel, this was fantastic with a hook right from the start: a teenage girl is missing and her family doesn't know about it, there's a lake involved and a bad boy neighbor. And it's 1977, and the girl is biracial - her father is Japanese and her mother is white - which adds an element to the whole thing.

Lydia Lee is the missing girl and the middle child - what is unusual is that she's the favorite and a biracial Asian/white girl with Asian features and blue eyes. She seems so driven that she's the least likely of the three children in her family to go missing. The police are called and ask questions of Lydia's parents - how was she doing at school, who were her friends, was she depressed - and her parents find themselves unable to answer with any degree of certainty or honesty. The question in this novel is why are they unable to answer the questions.

Marilyn, Lydia's mother, has her own demons - she's estranged from her mother.  James, a Japanese man that became a citizen, hasn't ever felt that he has belonged anywhere. He was the only Asian student at a private boarding school and one of the first Asians to attend Harvard in the 1960's. He's grown up and is growing old with a sense of loneliness that can't be shaken. While Marilyn and James aren't cruel to their children, it is painfully obvious that they are living their dreams through their children and, by extension, putting a lot of pressure on their children to do what they always wanted to do.

While Ng did a masterful job in addressing the issues that arise with racial issues and family issues, she was less sure on police procedural issues. She could do to brush up on those. The scenes of mourning aren't the best either but hey, if these are the only complaints that I have about a first novel, then I'll take it.  Ng is a wonderful storyteller whose powerful message is conveyed in brilliantly simple text. Definitely a must read.

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