Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, read by Cassandra Campbell

I have long said that I only listen to nonfiction on audio. And I think I mostly will continue to stick to that. But I got this audiobook for free, so I figured I'd give it a shot, even though with fiction and audios, I often get distracted along the way and miss something important. Also I find they are harder to listen to in very small (5 minute) bits. So when I started listening to this, just a week before my book club, I worried I hadn't given myself enough time, as I wanted larger chunks for listening. And the day of book club came and I'd only listened to one hour. I had 9 still to go. I was never going to make it. But nonetheless, I listened to it when I walked to my personal training. And, while I like the narration, I found it overly slow and for the first time I spend up the narration to 1.25. And I listened when I walked home. And at the adjusted rate, I saw it would be possible--just barley but possible--to finish it before book club at 7:00 that night. And I made it with 5 minutes to spare (I also walked to book club and I could see the Panera when I finished the book.)

Needless to say, I liked it. I think this book benefited from being read pretty much all in one sitting. I also think it benefited from the sped-up narration. Another book club member who also listened to it, felt it dragged in the middle, which I did not experience, but I could see how, at the original speed, it could feel that way.

Lydia is dead. Don't worry, that isn't a spoiler. Although at the  beginning of the book her family thinks she is just missing, but readers know this fact. It is the late 1970s in Ohio, and sixteen-year-old Lydia's blond white mother, Marilyn; her repressed Chinese father, James; her ignored older brother, Nath; and her invisible younger sister Hannah, all try to figure out what's happened, how they got to this point, and how to deal with it. We get a lot of flashbacks, back to James's childhood, when he and Marilyn met, Marilyn's dreams for her life which are swiftly and conventionally cut off, the repercussions of their mixed-race marriage in the late 1950s which was illegal in Marilyn's home state of Virginia, and the growing-up years of the Lee family. (I particularly like the irony of the last name, which in the South conjures up ideas of Robert E. Lee, not of a Chinese fiancee, to Marilyn's mother.) This book isn't plot driven, but it about a family, their interactions, how they influence and impact each other, how the sins of the parents are revisited upon the children, and how all of this leads inexorably to Lydia's death. There is just enough story going on to keep things moving, as there's an investigation and accusations, but that isn't the point. If you like your books character-driven, this is the book for you.

It's an interesting time in America and an interesting family to see in that time, and while the outcome may be tragic, it also is a story about hope and about things improving. There are a ton of great themes and the book club discussion was terrific. It's hard to say you really enjoyed a book about the death of a teenager, but I did. This book will make you think, but it isn't a difficult book. It's perfect for the fall, with college life being a recurring setting throughout the book (James is a professor of American History.) And it's a good way to dive back into deeper books with the turning of the leaves.

I got this book for free from Goodreads/Audible through the Ford Book Club.


Kay said...

I have this book both on my Kindle and in audio. I've tried to listen to it, but I think I got bogged down a bit. Maybe I'll try the 1.25 setting. Thanks for the suggestion!

Carin Siegfried said...

Kay, do try that. I never thought I'd do a speeded-up speed for an audiobook but it really works for this one. Every once in a while (about once a half-hour) there would be a word that was kind of missed or skipped but it wasn't enough to be a deterrent.