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Monday, February 22, 2016

In which my afternoon book group ponders Everything I Never Told You...

I have recently (like last month) started attending the afternoon book group that meets at the library that was my former workplace.  I was the original moderator of this group almost 9 years ago and we read regular fiction and non-fiction, which is still what the group chooses.  A volunteer that attended the group took over when I quit working and she's still the moderator today.  I continue to work with the mystery group.

When the afternoon group needed a moderator for the February book, Everything I Never Told You, I volunteered to lead the discussion.  And I was a little nervous because the group has changed so much in the last few years.  There were 19 of us at the meeting and I told them that I didn't know how they managed things these days, but I was going to jump in feet first...and here's the quote I began with:

Because more than anything, her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything her father had wanted to blend in.  Because those things had been impossible.

Everything I Never Told You is a debut novel by Celeste Ng.  It tells the story of a family in the 1970's who learn that their 16-year-old daughter, Lydia, is dead.  No one is sure what happened exactly, but Lydia is gone.  The father, James Lee, is a history professor and a Chinese-American.  The mother, Marilyn, is a homemaker and formerly a physics major at Radcliffe.  Marilyn had intended to be a doctor.  There are two other children, Nathan, 18, and Hannah, who is 12.  They are both part of the family, but largely ignored by James and Marilyn.  Lydia has her mother's blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair and she is definitely not ignored.  All the children are 'different', coming from the two different cultures of their parents.  And everyone has something to hide and no one communicates very well with other members of the family.  This is a family in denial.  So, what happened to Lydia, this favorite child of James and Marilyn?  This is what we learn over the course of the story.

Everything I Never Told You generated a great discussion.  We had members that really didn't like the book or any of the characters.  Who thought the parents were horrible people.  We had members who were so very touched by the circumstances and found that aspects of the tale had great relevance to their lives.  Some thought about their parenting and wondered if they had 'damaged' their children in ways that they didn't realize.  Some thought this would be a mystery and most of the story would be about investigating a crime.  Since this isn't a mystery book group, that was not a popular notion.

I was pleased that so many aspects of the book were brought forward and analyzed.  Several told stories from their own personal lives or their professional lives that related to sections of this book.  We talked about pressures that parents put on teenage kids to excel and when is it too much?  I shared that we have two nieces that were adopted from China and how they both found it difficult, even today, to deal with preconceived notions about their lives and characters while they lived in Pennsylvania.  Their experiences were similar to things that happened to the Lee children.

Celeste Ng provides a very nice Book Group section on her website.  It contains questions for discussion, an interview of Celeste herself about her writing, a playlist of songs from the time period (1970's), and a recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, which appears in this book and is significant.

I listened to Everything I Never Told You on audio and thought the writing was very good.  I had tried to read this book some time back, but I guess it wasn't the right time.  I found this story very sad and thought provoking.  I did enjoy the references to the 70's.  Part of the story goes back to the 1950's, while Marilyn was at Radcliffe and relates how she met James.  That section reminded me of the Julia Roberts movie, Mona Lisa Smile, which was set in 1953 at Wellesley.

In the end, the meeting was very successful.  I was glad that so many offered their thoughts.  Have you read this book?  Do you think it has a lot to talk about?  What was your experience?

This group will be reading Citizens of London for the meeting in March.  Non-fiction is very much not 'my thing', but I'm going to give it a shot.  I won't be the moderator though.  Thank goodness.

42 comments:

  1. I read this book over a year ago and loved it. I'm wondering if my oldest daughter would enjoy it as well. It is on my list as a book to recommend to our book discussion group, so it's good to know there was plenty to talk about.

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    1. I bet your book group would have a lot to talk about. I was afraid that this group would not like it very much. They seem to read pretty 'serious' books these days - much more so than when I was the leader. Lots of non-fic. They were very vocal though. Made me happy.

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  2. I enjoyed this novel. I think this book will stick with me and remind me of the struggles that some kids have. Thanks for sharing your book group story. 19! sounds like a lot to manage.

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    1. 19 is a lot, though this seems to be a very congenial group. Everyone shared and everyone gave an opinion. :-)

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  3. I read this book and enjoyed it. There are definitely some food for thought issues here. I'm very curious to know what the author will be writing next!

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    1. Me too. Since this was her debut novel, I wonder what direction she will move next.

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  4. That's one of my favorite quotes from the novel, it really captures so much of it.
    I remember this book being pretty polarizing during the Tournament of Books last year, so I can imagine that it would make for a great book group pick. Hope you enjoy your new time with the other readers!

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    1. It did make for great discussion. I'd say it was about half and half on the enjoyment meter. Though the good thing was that the ones who didn't care for it still listened and admitted that the others brought good points to mind. I thought that quote pretty much 'said it all' about this book. :-)

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  5. I thought I would enjoy this one Kay, but I DNF at 30% and still consider trying again as many have enjoyed it. I don't remember why I couldn't get into it, I believe I tried to read it last year Aug/Sept maybe.

    19 in a book club OMG, I'm not sure I would even want to be in one that large. Way to go.

    How does the book get chosen with that many?

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    1. I don't think I'd worry about going back to it, Marce. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn't want to read books like this all the time. Too sad. As to the selection process, the current moderator asks for suggestions a couple of times a year. Then she investigates whether the library will have enough copies (which has been an issue for both of us lately). Then she puts a voting ballot out to the group (which I suspect she probably tweaks a bit behind the scenes). The voting occurs and then the selected books are revealed. It's kind of a big process. The library changed their policies for book groups and it's a lot harder for the moderators to manage things these days. We both agree on that.

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  6. I haven't yet read this one, but it's one I hope to get to at some point. As you know, I like books that explore family dynamics in the way this book does. I imagine this one will have me thinking for a long while after. Sounds like the perfect book for a book club!

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    1. It really was, Wendy, and I was just so happy that these ladies were willing to talk so much. Thought I suspect that isn't a problem for them. Most are older ladies, retired or not working right now. I think a lot of us get more opinionated as we age. I know I have. LOL

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  7. What a cool opportunity and I love the quote you chose...pretty much sums who the whole book! I also expected more of the book to be about the crime, but was pleasantly surprised with how that didn't happen. I seem to have found this little niche that I love of literary books that contain a crime, but the crime is more of a background element to the story, not the central focus. My Sunshine Away, The Animals, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, etc.

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    1. Yes, kind of what is termed 'literary mystery' by some. I can see how this one would work well for you, Sarah, based on what you've shared with us. I liked it, but it was about at my edge of literary. I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but let's just say I like 'justice wins', 'they lived happily ever after', and 'good over evil'. And I won't say which of these fits this story or doesn't fit. :-)

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  8. When a book generates that great of a discussion, it must be doing something right. Some of the books I don't enjoy-- stay with me the longest.

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    1. Yep. I agree. I liked this one well enough, but I couldn't read a bunch of books in a row with this sort of story.

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  9. I haven't read this book but I'm thinking about it. I like how complex the story sounds. I love the sound of the book group! My library has a few book groups but I haven't joined any of them yet. I need to try one! I've only been in one other book club and it was through a Mom's group so the members weren't necessarily all readers.

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    1. The two groups that I'm in are filled with readers. Serious readers, really. I love my mystery group. They are all so fun to talk with - kind of like book bloggers - LOL! You might try this book. It's an interesting story - not a happy one, but interesting.

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  10. I enjoyed the audio of this one and agree that there is plenty to discuss. Glad your group enjoyed it.

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    1. I liked the audio a lot. It definitely held my interest.

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  11. I have Citizens of London on my TBR. Maybe your meeting will inspire me to get around to it!

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    1. Good luck. I'm hoping it will work for me. We'll see. I haven't started it yet.

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  12. That's great that you had a good time going back to your old group. I don't like moderating but we rotate that role in our book group and it works out. Plus, it is nice that no one member feels like they have to do all the "work". Anyway, really like the sound of this book and I think it's definitely something I would enjoy. Another for the radar!

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    1. Yes, I bet you would like this one, Iliana.

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  13. I loved this book. It was one of my favorites of 2015.

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  14. So glad that the book group went well. It certainly sounds as if you had plenty to discuss with this book. I have this on the TBR and it's sat there partly because the reviews have been so mixed I was unsure if it was really one for me or not plus I think it's one of those books that I need to be in the right kind of mood.

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    1. You and me both, Cleo. It was not the right time for me at an earlier point, but I did better this time around. I'm glad I read it.

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  15. This was one of my favorites a couple of years ago! I've suggested it to my book club a couple of times, but they haven't picked up on it - yet. Glad your group had such a good discussion. Maybe I'll pitch it one more time. Can't wait to see what Ng writes about next.

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    1. Yes, JoAnn, it was your recommendation that made me feel like I 'ought' to persevere and finish this book. And so I did. I bet your group would like this or at least have a good discussion. There was a lot to talk about.

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  16. I thought this book had a simplistic moral, but I can see that it could generate some interesting discussion, especially if you know people of Asian descent growing up in midwestern American families.

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    1. Jeanne, actually, I was afraid that there wouldn't be enough to discuss. I knew how it had brought things to mind in my life, but I wasn't sure about others. However, those ladies talked and talked and talked. So, it turned out well. :-)

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  17. Sounds like you had a very rich discussion about this book. I thought this book was okay, but not nearly as great as all the hype made it sound. Glad you enjoyed it and that you were able to have a successful book club discussion about it.

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    1. I think I liked it better after hearing all the discussion. If that makes sense? LOL

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  18. I have not gotten around to reading this one yet, but from what I have heard, this book does make for a great discussion. It sounds like that is exactly what you had!

    Good luck with your next book discussion!

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    1. It was a wonderful discussion.

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  19. Loved reading about your moderator experience. I have never been a part of an IRL book club though I certainly hope to try it one day. This one keeps getting on and off my TBR. Your review however makes me want to check it out.

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    1. Book clubs are a lot of fun for me. I've certainly enjoyed the two I've been part of for so long.

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  20. I read this for a book club, too, and it generated a great discussion for my group as well. Several of the members absolutely hated it, they thought it was too bleak and depressing, but I liked it a lot. I thought the writing was beautiful, and while it was sad, the characters were incredibly realistic and interesting to me.

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    1. There was a lot to talk about for sure.

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  21. I read this book a year ago and thought it was good (3/5 rating), but it was so sad. The dysfunction of that family was heartbreaking.

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    1. It was quite sad. I felt for each and every member of the family and then also felt angry at all of them too.

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Thanks for stopping by! I am so happy to hear your thoughts and will respond as soon as I can. Happy Reading!