Finished: January 27, 2018
As in Little Fires Everywhere the driving event of the novel is on the first page:
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”[p 1]
Lydia is a high school teen who is caught in the web of conflicting expectations. Her family is the only Asian town in their midwest community; her mother has put her own lapsed dreams onto Lydia; and her father has done the same – hoping Lydia will be popular.
“And Lydia herself – the reluctant center of their universe – every day, she held the world together. She absorbed her parents’ dreams, quieting the reluctance that bubbled within.”[p 160]
Yet this is so much more than a novel about a teen’s death. We see the dynamics between the mother and father, the three siblings, and the neighbor, Jack. The pressures of life can bring families together or break them apart. And though family members share a lot with one another, it just isn’t everything. This novel explores the pressures, consequences, and efforts of the family. It is a detailed and nuanced look into their lives.
It’s fun reading two novels from the same author back-to-back – even though I read them in reverse order of their publication. There are common themes; primarily parents pushing their kids because of their own frustrations. There are common structures – notably starting the story with the climax then circling back from the beginning. But we also get to enjoy the differences and Celeste Ng’s beautiful prose style.
I’ve read a few books about teen deaths the past couple of years – most notably “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold. I have four friends from my high school and college days who have suffered through their childrens’ deaths. I can sympathize but I can’t understand what it is like. So, I can’t know how true this novel is. Nevertheless, it is gripping and – to this outsider – feels like it is sympathetic and well thought out.