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Monthly Pick > Oct 2016: Everything I Never Told You

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message 1: by Reera, Bookmaster (new)

Reera | 261 comments Mod
We tallied the votes, and Celeste Ng's 2014 novel Everything I Never Told You emerged as the winner, making it our official pick for October.

There will be a live book club meeting in the L.A. area on Sunday, Oct. 30. Location and time are yet to be determined. Of course, members are encouraged to share their thoughts on the book in the forums. :)

message 2: by Lauren (last edited Oct 11, 2016 12:37PM) (new)

Lauren | 109 comments Since I won't be able to attend the book club meeting due to geographical differences, I'm just going to post some of the thoughts I have about the book here and hope for the best. If you haven't finished reading it yet, here's your spoiler warning.

(view spoiler)

message 3: by Lauren (new)

Lauren | 109 comments By the way, I highly advise listening to this interview Celeste Ng did for The Mixed Experience podcast. It's really interesting on how she approached the writing process for this first work of hers, and how some people have responded to the racism post-Loving v. Virginia that the book clearly shows.

message 4: by Reera, Bookmaster (last edited Oct 25, 2016 05:33PM) (new)

Reera | 261 comments Mod
This was also my second time reading Everything I Never Told You. I actually appreciated the book more through my second read because I wasn't so eager to unravel the mystery behind Lydia's death. Since I already knew the book's twists and ending, I think I paid more attention to Ng's cinematic prose and imagery this time around.

(view spoiler)

Overall, I thought the novel was a beautiful character portrait. It was refreshing to read a mystery novel that focused on the relationships of the characters rather than the crime itself. I also found the historical context interesting because I don't often read many stories about Asian Americans in the 1970's.

(view spoiler)

message 5: by Teresa (new)

Teresa Meng (resareviews) | 30 comments Currently waiting for "Little Fires Everywhere" to ship to me so I decided to reflect upon "Everything I Never Told You". The podcast discussion helped me remember so much so I didnt have to reread it. Feel free to disagree with me!

Though the book is set in the 1970s, the characters' experiences were very relatable. As an Asian-American reader, many scenes hit home. For instance, in elementary in the South, I was one of few Asians in school (often the only Asian in class). Thus, I was able to relate to James' descriptions of shame and isolation, which were reinforced by the racist jabs from other children.

Ng's did a great job exploring the psychology of her characters. I loved reading the detailed rationale behind their desires and actions. I completely believe that there are real-life James and Marilyn who need their children to fulfill their failed vision of the American Dream. I see that in stories from friends who are pressured away from non-traditional careers by worried parents. I see that in stories from friends whose parents push them to excel to compensate for a "defect". These consequences of parental expectation evoked the most visceral reactions.

It was frustrating to me that nearly all of the characters lacked self-realization, conflict resolution, and ability to understand other people's perspectives. Many instances, each of the characters acted, at times, incredibly selfish and cruel. I understand that Ng was trying to emphasize her message but it could have been MUCH more subtle. It also doesnt make sense that there is absolutely NO communication between anyone in the family. Why hasnt ANYONE complained? But everyone in the novel avoids any type of vulnerability unless it was convenient to the plot. It was incredulous to me that Marilynn and James has never once talked about their past until it was convenient to the plot.

The people in the family, especially Marilynn and James are meant to be portrayed very sympathetically. But their careless inattention to Hannah and James' intentional cruelty to James destroyed pretty much all of the sympathy that Ng built with their character development chapters.

Another way in which things were made too convenient was Jack's characterization. As a book that aims to represent marginalized groups, it didnt succeed at representing the LGBTQ+ community. I still have no idea why Jack even liked Nate. Jack's entire existence in the novel was to facilitate the drama. His mother reminded Marilynn of her doctor-dream, and James' American-boy-dream and Lydia's freedom-dream. So the reveal of Jack's sexuality seemed to be simply another device to facilitate the plot or add an "exciting twist".

"Everything I Never Told You" is the first novel I read that has a more modern take on the Asian-American narrative. It moves away from the immigration/sacrifice formula to explore problems still present in our community, offering a new exploration of the American Dream. Since it is the first of its type, I wanted too much for it to be perfect kinda similar to the parents in a way...hmmmm.... In retrospective, I shouldnt have been as flustered as I was by its flaws. I hope that this high level of expectation for Asian American authors will be knocked down once as representation increases.

All in all, the book successfully encourages readers (both in and outside of the Asian-American community) to reflect on how much these problems have improved. I would recommend this book to everyone.

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