Monday, April 13, 2015

Audiobook Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (narrated by Cassandra Clare; 10 hours, 1 minute) tells the story of the mixed race family, the Lee's, who live in suburban Ohio in the 1970's. As the book opens, the family has discovered that Lydia, the middle child and oldest daughter, is missing. When her body is discovered two days later in the nearby lake each family member begins to unwind their history and to try to make sense of the tragedy. With each family member's unwinding, the reader learns all that went unsaid and misunderstood between these family members and how it all combined to crush Lydia.

James Lee, the son of immigrants, attended a prestigious prep school at which his father worked as a janitor. Decidedly out of place due to his race and socioeconomic class, James longed to fit in but never quite achieved it. While at Harvard, he met Marilyn - a young, beautiful student with ambition to do more than just satisfy her mother's dream for her - to become a wife. Marilyn wanted to challenge her mother's and other's expectations of her and to become a doctor. She defied her mother's expectations once again when she fell in love with James, an Asian man at a time when mixed race marriages were still illegal in many states. Despite this and maybe a little due to her need to defy her mother, Marilyn marries James and becomes a young mother when their son, Nath, is born. With the arrival of motherhood, Marilyn places her dreams of being a doctor on a shelf but not without some regret and even resentment. With the arrival of the Lee's second child, Lydia, Marilyn sees a vessel for her own shelved dreams and begins to prepare her daughter to become a doctor. Meanwhile, James, pushes her to be popular and to "fit in" - no one asks or assesses what Lydia might want.

Lydia is uncomfortable with her status of favored child and the pressure of living out both of her parents' own dreams. Despite Nath's occasional resentment of his younger sister and the attention of their parents which she commands, the siblings are close and depend on each other to understand their unique family dynamic as only siblings can. The Lee's youngest child, Hannah, is almost the forgotten sibling - conceived at a time when her parents were going through a difficult time and born into a family preoccupied with their own issues, Hannah moves through the household largely unnoticed. From this hidden vantage point, Hannah sees things the other family member's miss - she takes precious belongings from each family member and through them learns what is important to them. She may not always understand the insights her observations offer but she does see things most family members miss. Her insights into Lydia are especially revealing as they all deal with her disappearance and death.

My Thoughts
This intelligent, debut novel tells a tragic story  - and not just the tragedy of a drowned sixteen year old. The real tragedy is how little the parents know about their own children and vice versa. Clouded by the need to see their dreams lived through their children, James and Marilyn never really see their own children or their needs. They give them what they think they need but repeatedly miss the mark. In much the same way, although more understandable since they are children, the Lee children don't know what drives their parents to push them they way they do. Everyone is moving through life propelled by desires they don't understand or acknowledge. The result is the story of a dysfunctional family which fascinates. Cassandra Campbell is a favorite narrator of mine and does an excellent job with this book.  Definitely recommend (the book and the audio production!)

11 comments:

  1. I have this book but haven't read it yet. Thanks to your review, I'm going to pull it out.

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  2. I liked this one last year...and I thought the most fascinating part of it was the whole "parents have no idea what their children are up to" dynamic...

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  3. Boy oh boy, does that ever sound like my kind of book!

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  4. Thank you for your thoughts on a book that I actually have on my kindle, but never got around to. It sounds like a melancholy but enjoyable read.

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  5. This was one of my favorite audios last year, but am sure it would have made the cut in print, too. Glad you enjoyed it, too. Can't wait to see what this author writes about next!

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  6. I liked the audio of this one as well Colleen. Sad story and unfortunately, there are many parents like these -- I know one.

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  7. Fine synopsis of a fascinating book. It was one of my favorite novels from 2014. I read it in print.

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  8. Another one that sounds like a great book club choice!

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  9. Oh glad to hear it's good. Our book club is discussing it in June. Sounds like a great discussion book.

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  10. Interesting and complex story of a multi-cultural family. The influences of each parent's upbringing affect the three children differently and tragically. The reader sympathizes with each child for the emotional damage each parent perpetuates. The time period in which the story takes place reflects the typical but different behavior each parent displays and how the reader now sees the transparency of the traumas and the predictable outcome of the story.

    Marlene
    View this site for Garibaldi House Inn Rockaway Beach Oregon Hotel

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  11. I agree. VG read.

    http://readerbuzz.blogspot.com

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