Pages: 297 pages
Published: May 12, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Fiction & Literature, Contemporary Fiction, Literary FictionSynopsis:
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 fulfil 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.
I really wanted to like this book. The novel received rave reviews from critics, most of my friends loved it. But I was left with confusion, frustration and wanting more from the story. These are feelings that I should not be left with after reading a novel.
Literary fiction is such a tricky genre. It is a split between telling a story and making sure the story has a message behind it. A lot of contemporary authors struggle with this barrier. They focus more on the message than on what the story is trying to convey. That is what Ng did with this story. It was all over the place. I found my mind wondering off while reading it because the story just refused to capture my attention. One moment it takes place in the present and before you know it, it takes place in the past. Normally, I don’t mind when a novel is plotted that way, however, this clunky, non-linear storytelling annoyed me more instead of getting me interested in the story.
The lack of character development was also a huge thorn in my side. These were so unlikable and so underdeveloped that I had a hard time developing a connection with any of the main characters. I just had a hard time finding them relatable. Again, I don’t have a problem with dislikable characters. They make the story more interesting. But that was not the case with this book. The Hannah character may have well as been the family dog. She felt like a placeholder, serving no purpose whatsoever.
There were so many opportunities to explore the race issue but the author just let them get away from her. I particularly curious about reading about racism other than black/white relations. Although, I felt this particular theme went on the back burner. There were fleeting incidents but the author just refused to develop it more. Because of that, it hurt the novel exponentially.
This may be considered a popular literary novel, nevertheless, I would give this one a pass. There are better novels that depict family dramas and this one was incapable of making the grade.
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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