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Everything I Never Told You Paperback – May 12, 2015
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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If we know this story we haven t seen it yet in American fiction not until now Deep heartfelt The New York Times Book Review Lydia is dead But they don t know this yet So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small town Ohio Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue But when Lydia s body is found in the local lake the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed tumbling them into chaos A profoundly moving story of family secrets and longing Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page turner and a sensitive family portrait uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters fathers and sons and husbands and wives struggle all their lives to understand one another New York Times Bestseller A New York Times Book Review Editor s Choice Winner of the Alex Award Winner of the APALA Award for Fiction NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY NPR San Francisco Chronicle Entertainment Weekly The Huffington Post Buzzfeed Amazon Grantland Booklist St Louis Post Dispatch Shelf Awareness Book Riot School Library Journal Bustle Time Out New York Mashable Cleveland Plain Dealer Lydia is dead But they don t know this yet So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small town Ohio Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue But when Lydia s body is found in the local lake the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed tumbling them into chaos A profoundly moving story of family secrets and longing Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page turner and a sensitive family portrait uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters
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Everything I Never Told You is a story of secrets, of love, of longing, of lies, of race, of identity, and knowledge. The story begins with the death of Lydia, daughter of Marilyn and James, which is told in the first sentence and slowly revealed through the book. Her death drives the narrative, and yet, this story is bigger, grander than this central mystery. Marilyn wanted to defy society's narrow vision of her life and become a doctor, while James is trying to overcome humble beginnings and a society judging him based on his race. Together, they conventions, marry and create a family. Nathan, oldest son on his way to Harvard, Lydia, the middle sister and favorite one, and Hannah, truly growing up invisible. Together, Ng has created a complex, complicated family that rings so true on every page. There isn't a false note in the story.
Perhaps the power of this book lies in the writing of Ng. Her prose is lyrical and light, allowing you to float in the scenes, often between characters, as if you are a literary ghost spying on these people. She moves her story along when it needs to, and allows certain scenes to linger when needed. The effect is magnificent. She also embues the realities of racism, that appropriately jar the reader, which at first seem to be just a "matter of the times" (she painfully uses the word Oriental to describe people) but in reality plays a bigger role in the story. I appreciated it.
By the time you read the final page, you realize Ng has managed to create such a reality, and that when it ends, there is a sense of loss. Much like the family must deal with the loss of Lydia, we must deal with the loss of these imperfect and real people. This book reveals much, about them, about us, about our country, about our society. It is a book that begs for conversation, that begs to be discussed, interpreted, and argued over. It is a book that will be with you for a long time.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
"Lydia is dead. But they don't know that yet."
Is this the beginning of a great story, or just a gimmicky hook? If you are looking for a suspense or crime thriller, you will be largely disappointed. This is a domestic drama about a Chinese-American man (born in the US), James Lee, his blonde, Caucasian wife, Marilyn, and their three children. Lydia, just sixteen, is the middle child, the one that they have projected their dreams onto, although James and Marilyn have different approaches and aspirations for her--which is a problem for Lydia, one she doesn't share with them. I felt that Ng's overall result was a mixed bag.
I was on board with Ng's type of story and style--the family dynamics that make unhappy families what they are, but there were inherent problems in the author's assertions, and some heavy-handed pronouncements. The most bothersome of these was the premise of almost draconian racism that was supposedly present in the mid-seventies America. I remember the late 60's junior high, and the most popular girl in our school (and head cheerleader) was a Chinese-American girl (the only one in the school). I did not see any evidence of her being ostracized. In Ng's book, all three of the children were severely blackballed by their peers, and even the newspaper made some statements that read as if out of 1920. I lived in small town New England, the Lees lived in small-town Ohio. Perhaps Ohio IS different, but it overreached, and became ham-handed after a while, with the author constantly (repetitively) returning to this issue. And, James, who was a graduate of Harvard in the 60's, apparently suffered from the same thing.
Marilyn's hang-up was that she never went to medical school; her plans were jettisoned when she got pregnant, and then she and James married. Her mother implied disapproval of James, so she never spoke to her mother again for the rest of her mother's life. Marilyn decided that her daughter was going to pick up where Marilyn left off, and started buying her stacks of books oriented toward the math and science she would need to accomplish in order to get into medical school. James was determined that Lydia would have the social life that he had been barred from all his life due to discrimination.
The other two children, Nath and Hannah, are not as special to James and Marilyn. Although Nath is graduating high school, and was accepted at Harvard, his parents' delight is peripheral to the centrality of their especial child, Lydia. The core of their lives is Lydia, and the core of this novel seems to be how the impact of racism affected this family and created disharmony and dysfunction. Yet, towards the end, the author tacked on a new issue, one I won't reveal except to say that it didn't feel organic, and the authorial intrusion intensified for this reader.
Ng writes lovely passages, and for that alone I would be open to reading her next novel. It was evident that she was illuminating the contrasts between external feelings of marginalization and the internal struggles that we all have regarding our differences. Regardless of the outward and pointed distinctions, it is a universal problem to feel alienated, and that came across well. However, Ng's approach periodically felt like a disquisition on cultural diversity, which pulled me out of the story of these specific characters. She fell into a few debut-novel traps, but I suspect that she will mature as a writer.
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Deeper,more intricate characters;