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.