What I’m Reading: Everything I Never Told You

From the Book Jacket:

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.

My review:

Part of me really enjoyed this story, and the other part of me really disliked it. I don’t know if it’s because I really enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere and I had big expectations, but something about Everything I Never Told You just left me feeling unsatisfied.

I’ll start by saying that Marilyn and James Lee really annoyed me. They were your stereotypical “I want my child to beeverything I wish I was when I was growing up” kind of parents, and I couldn’t stand them. I get that parents often live vicariously through their offspring, but they were ridiculously selfish.

That being said, a big kudos to Celeste Ng for making me loathe them so much but at the same time wanting to know more about them. My heart hurt for their children, whether it was because they were being pushed into being something they didn’t want, being ridiculed for having a passion, or being ignored completely.

I’d almost give Everything I Never Told You four stars, but there’s some nagging feeling holding me back. I think I just wanted more out of it; it felt way too short for the subject matter and I feel there’s some kind of void that’s been left unfilled.

My rating: ★★★¾/5 stars

What I’m Reading: Little Fires Everywhere

From the book jacket:
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

My review:
Little Fires Everywhere is the first novel I’ve read by Celeste Ng, and I was really confused at first when she the story started at the end, but it ended up being a brilliant way to keep me intrigued and wanting to read more.

I really loved how even in the most “perfect” community – one where everything is precise and planned – people have their secrets, their flaws. Even Mrs. Richardson bends the ethical guidelines of her and her friend’s profession.

Then there’s the controversy in the story between the McCullough’s and Bebe, which really made you think about your own morals and what is right and wrong. Should do-overs, per-say, be allowed in such instances? I also had to keep reminding myself that this was a different decade that this was all occurring it, so I’m certain that this had a lot to do with the outcome. I do wonder if Mia felt compelled to help Bebe because she felt guilty of her own actions all those years ago … Whatever the reason, I was disappointed in Mia’s actions towards the Ryans and feel bad for Pearl not knowing the true reason behind their nomadic lifestyle.

That being said, I did appreciate Mia’s compassion towards the Richardson children, not judging them even in their darkest moments. Growing up in a “perfect” community, I imagine, could be hard on any person, especially when it doesn’t allow you to be who you truly are. (Like Izzy, for example.)

I also felt bad for Moody. He befriended Pearl and she did nothing but deceit him after falling for his older brother. Moody was perhaps the only character in the story who wasn’t being selfish; even Izzy was selfish in a sense by wanted to keep Mia all to herself.

I think I would have given Little Fires Everywhere five stars, but I was a little disappointed in the actual ending of the book. I was hoping for a bit of reunion between Mia and her family, some answers owed to the Ryans. Maybe I’ll get lucky and there will be a sequel.

My rating: ★★★★½ / 5