This NY Times Bestseller has been on my TBR list for quite some time, so I was excited to find a copy of this at a local used book store. When I got home, I left it out on my couch, not letting myself put it onto a shelf before I read it. It’s so small…I was just afraid that it would get lost between the other books and I would overlook it and never get around to reading it. Honestly, I can’t give any definitive statement on whether that helped me start the book any faster than I would have otherwise (though I suspect it did, since there were some under the breath complaints about it being in the way from a certain someone I live with). However, what I can definitively say is that I can see why this was a bestseller.
“This book was beautifully and aptly named. This is the story of a family of five and, from each of their perspectives, the things they hold inside and have never shared with each other. The book begins “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” And from there the author gracefully weaves together the past and the present as the full, or at least as close to full as possible, story emerges. Ng’s writing is smooth and easy, not quite the lyrical prose that I was expecting from the many reviews I had read, but definitely a style that comfortably pulls you along. In fact, I enjoyed how unobtrusive the writing is – conveying both the development of the story and the characters’ feelings in a clear, vibrant way, but never once allowing the words themselves to overpower or steal focus from what they were describing. Masterful in a subtle way not usually seen in highly praised literature.
As the book progresses, we learn about Lydia’s parents, how they grew up and how their lives had turned out differently than what they had hoped for themselves. Over time, we see how these unreached goals or plans turn into expectations and interactions with their three children that are neither what the parents really mean nor what the children wish they were. This novel was remarkable in the scope of the perspectives it presents. Seeing what the parents came from and how that colored their points of view, future hopes, and actions was insightful and did allow the reader to feel some empathy for them. At the same time, we saw the way those hopes and actions were perceived and handled by each of the three children – the pressure that they felt to stand up to their parents’ dreams, feeling sidelined or ignored, being pushed to have an outer persona that didn’t reflect what they actually wanted or, especially socially, what things were actually like. And the reader definitely feels empathy for them as well. To be able to simultaneously write from both the adult and child perspectives in a believable and sympathetic way is impressive.
An emotionally explorative and stirring novel of family, loss, and coming to terms with what your life is and what it is not. Ng looks both forwards and backwards in this story to discover and explain how each of the five got to where they are and how to they plan to get to where they want to be. It’s an emotional story that touches on numerous themes of family, evolution of self, and maturation that will be recognizable and relatable to many people, on many levels, at many stages of life. And though that recognition may hurt to read at times, it’s important and necessary for each of us to experience and learn from it so that we can take this chance to do better ourselves.”