Book report #5 (2021)

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. Pub 2014

This was another from the post-Christmas top-up. I had read something about this book being better than the author’s much hyped Little Fires Everywhere, and it was on sale during my shopping spree, et voila, it ended up in my pile. It was a quick read.

The novel tells the story of a Chinese-American family in the 60s and 70s in a small college Ohio town. One of the daughters dies suddenly, and the story moves backwards and forwards to fill in the “how could this happen?” question. While there is tragedy and misunderstanding and missed opportunities aplenty, much of it feels a bit forced and stereotypical, and in the end there are few characters that you like or even care about (except perhaps the youngest child, but even that character is almost too precocious or preternaturally wise to be believable). 

Perhaps it was just bad timing for the reading of this story, but the discrimination and disappointments experienced by the characters seems at times overdramatic. There are no lessons learned by either the discriminators or their targets, with the family members each absorbing the taunts and challenges and turning those into their defining features, at times directly and consciously. In the end, it feels like a missed opportunity to have let the family’s differences be their defining feature and yet have had little to do with their tragic fates – what happens to them in the end has nothing to do with differences or discrimination, but with each being self-centred and mean to each other. The story’s central tragedy was caused not by anything to do with race or society, but with a highly dysfunctional (but ultimately rather ordinary) family. The late introduction of a closeted gay man to the story felt gratuitous, almost an attempt to make the story more modern-day relevant. 

The writing style was fairly ordinary, its only saving grace being the deftly managed back-and-forth of past and present revelations. Combined with the somewhat disappointing story, this isn’t a book I would rave about or recommend, or even send to a friend. It was enjoyable enough for a long lockdown weekend, and would be a good beach read, but won’t be remaining on my shelves or in my memory for long. 

Fate: charity shop

7- an author’s debut book

8- a book with a female author

9 – a book that has been or is being made into a film (at least according to Wikipedia)

13 – a story set somewhere I’ve never been (Ohio)

25 – a book by an author I’ve never read

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