Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

I have discovered several authors this year who I love who have only written one book and who write very slowly. Julie Otsuka (who has written two books, but they were published nine years apart), Min Jin Lee and now Celeste Ng. Everything I Never Told You is her debut novel and according to the acknowledgement it took her six years to finish. I hope I don’t have to wait six years to read another novel by Ng, but if I did it would probably be worth the wait.

Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue —in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family— Hannah —who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

 I really loved this book, so this will probably be a terrible review. You should definitely check this book out. I don’t know that I’d call it a “gripping page-turner,” I found the story a lot slower than that implies, but it’s definitely a book that takes hold of you and doesn’t let go.
The book shifts between each family member’s perspective, flowing from the present to the past, from one point of view to another. It’s really skillful writing on Ng’s part as I never noticed the transitions until I was in another time or another character’s head.
I found each of the characters compelling in their own way, and I love the use of dramatic irony. It makes the story very satisfying. I as a reader had all the pieces, while each character was stuck in their own little world. I was able to experience their grief, their confusion, their anger, their dissatisfaction, without having to share in their ignorance of their situations.

I also love that the Lees are an interracial/biracial family. Ng handled all the points of view very well, and it’s one of the most satisfying portrayals of what it is to be a part of an interracial/biracial family I’ve read. She strikes the right balance of not letting it define the Lees but acknowledging how it affects them.

My only complaint would have to be when Ng describes James’ cowlick as “one whisp [that] stood straight up in back, like an Indian chief’s feather.” There’s another time James stares at the Indian on the test pattern on the TV. The book is set in the 1970s and it’s not PC (there are several times racial slurs are used throughout the book), but in both these situations I thought it was unnecessary to mention Indians. There’s no reason Ng couldn’t have just described it as a cowlick and had James staring at a different part of the test pattern (or the blank screen of the TV) and left it at that.

Other than that though, Everything I Never Told You is a great debut novel, and I look forward to reading many more books from Celeste Ng.

Challenge count:
This is my 79th book read for the Diversity on the Shelf 2014 challenge
This is my 105th book read for my booklikes challenge

Reading Habits

I’ve been thinking about my reading habits more than usual lately. I’ve come across this tag periodically and now seemed a good time to share my answers. This is a tag that originated in the booktubing community and was created by TheBookJazz. If you’ve done this tag, or if you do this tag in the future, leave me a link in the comments. I’d love to see your answers (I’m nosy like that)!

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?
When I’m at home I almost exclusively read in my bed. Sometimes (read: rarely) I will read downstairs on the couch. (In the summer I read in my hammock too.)

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?
I have these tiny notebooks (with Tarepanda on them). I tear out a sheet and use it as a bookmark and for taking notes. Or if the book is a hold from the library, I’ll use the hold slip as a bookmark/scrap paper for notes. Sometimes I don’t use anything to mark my place, and then I’ll use my phone to take notes.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/ a certain amount of pages?
I like to find a natural break in the story to stop reading. I try to find a place in the middle of a chapter, because if I make it to the end of a chapter I almost always want to keep on reading. However, since I read a lot at work I can’t get precious about this. Sometimes the book has to go down in the middle of an exciting section.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?
I cannot eat while reading. It’s too hard to hold the book and eat, and I’m always worried about getting food in the book. I do drink while reading. My favorite things to drink with a book are tea and ginger beer.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?
If someone else is listening to music or watching TV, I’m pretty good at tuning them out and concentrating on my book. If I’m alone though, I can’t have any distractions. A muted TV is OK because I can ignore the video, but sounds distract me.

6. One book at a time or several at once?
Usually one book at a time, but it depends. If I’m reading something longer I’ll have a few going at once. And I might start a few books at the same time, but I usually pick one to concentrate on, finish it, then move onto the next one (or just abandon all the others never to be read).

7. Reading at home or everywhere?
Reading everywhere (except on vacation). I try to have a book on me at all times because you never know when there will be the opportunity to read.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?
I do a lot of reading out loud (I know a lot of kids), and sometimes there’s a passage or a poem that needs to be read out loud. But for the majority of the time I read silently. It’s so much faster, and I find that I often cannot comprehend what I’m reading when I read out loud.

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?
I always read the last sentence of a book before I start reading it (yes, I’m one of those people). Sometimes I read ahead and that’s a warning sign for me. If I start skipping ahead, skimming passages, or counting pages* it means I’m not interested in the book and should probably give it up. *Sometimes I’ll count pages if I’m in a time crunch, but that’s the only exception I can think of.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?
Keep it like new. I HATE broken spines. If I lend you a book and you break the spine that’s it. No more books for you (unless you’re my mother but she’s the exception because she provided and continues to provide me with books to read).

11. Do you write in your books?
It depends on the book. I’m hesitant to write in a lot of my books the first time around because I don’t know if I’m going to keep them or not, and I don’t necessarily want strangers reading all of my notes. I’ve been thinking I should write in more of my books though. I keep notes on almost every book I read (see number 2), but it’s easier to track them if they’re right there in the book.

I Don’t Read on Vacation

This is the first time I’ve admitted it to myself, but it’s true. I don’t read on vacation.

I think I really internalized the idea that vacation should be a time for relaxing, which should of course include reading (preferably by a body of water). And it’s not that I find reading taxing or that I don’t relax on my vacations. I just don’t read.

I think part of it is that when I go on vacation I have to limit the books I take and I never do well when forced to read anything. Even if it’s something I really want to read. I like having books around me. I like having my library (both personal and public) nearby. I like knowing that I have easy access to all my books (even if I know I won’t read most of them ever). I think it’s like a security blanket, a really unportable security blanket.

The other part is that I don’t have as much time to read on vacation as I do in my normal, everyday life. I’m usually with people more and doing more things than I would at home.

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The books in question

The last vacation I went on (eight days) I brought three books and I only touched one of them. I only read five Sherlock Holmes stories, but it didn’t feel like a big deal or a failure. I planned for this lull in my reading. I read a lot before vacation and once I got home I started reading again.

I do find myself wondering if I might read more on vacation if I had an ereader. That would allow me to carry around at least part of my library wherever I go, freeing me of the fear of being stuck reading something I hate. I currently have apps that let me read books on my iPad, but it’s just not something I’ve incorporated into my life.

Maybe I’ll load my iPad up before my next vacation. But if it ends up abandoned in the beach house, I’m okay with that.

Blogging Confessions

I’ve been book blogging for a year and a half now, and I’m realizing that I don’t really know/like a lot of the book blogging world.

I’m not interested in blog tours (I’m still not sure exactly what these are or what their point is), book cover reveals (is this really that big a deal?), memes (I do one meme, and it’s one I created and only post when I feel like it). I don’t worry about reading new releases unless I’m really interested in the book. I’m not afraid of giving negative reviews.*

I’m not interested in keeping up with what everyone else is read. Mostly because I think most books being released don’t sound interesting. I did more of that (reading new releases) when I started book blogging, and I just ended up owning (because when you’re pressuring yourself to review a book immediately after it’s been released there’s no time to wait for the library to get it) a ton of books that I HATED (and am still trying to get rid of).

I wish I were more connected to other readers in the book blogging community, but it’s been difficult for me to find bloggers with similar interests. There are a lot of group blogs out there, but it’s difficult to find the individuals who blog about racial diversity, too. If you have any suggestions (self-promotion included), let me know in the comments!

While I was on hiatus I was trying to figure out what I liked about blogging. I’m not sure I succeeded, but I did miss it while I was away which I took as a sign that I should keep at it. I will probably never keep a traditional book blog, but I’m okay with that. Looking back on my blog, I’m happy with what I see. And I’m excited to start again.

*Sometimes I think my reviews make it seem like I don’t like ANYTHING. I promise that’s not the case, and some of the changes I’m planning on rolling out are highlighting books/series/authors I do like.

Read a Book of Poetry

GBM_13136807510I usually wait until I’ve finished a goal to blog about it, but I’m too excited to wait for this one.

I’m in the middle of reading The Folio Society’s Goblin Market and Selected Poems by Christina Rossetti. The book is introduced by Kathyrn Hughes and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.

I read One Summer, also illustrated by Jillian Tamaki in May. It’s one of the only graphic novels I’ve ever read where the images stuck with me as much if not more than the words (I’m usually much more verbal than visual).

I read Goblin Market my sophomore year of college but was unfamiliar with Rossetti’s other work. Something about her stuck with me though. When cleaning out my grandmother’s apartment I kept a book of Rossetti’s poems.

So when I was browsing the Folio Society’s summer sale this year and saw Goblin Market and Selected Poems was illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and on sale, I knew I needed a copy.

The poems are lovely so far*, as are the illustrations. You can see a few more here at Jillian Tamaki’s website.

*They are also deceptively complex and often bleak (in a really great way). To learn more about Christina Rossetti’s life and works check out her bio on the Poetry Foundation’s website.

Words for Wednesday

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
- “Remember” by Christina Rossetti

Read This Series: Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

I can’t remember how I learned of the Anna Hibiscus series, but I’m so glad I did. I read the first few books for my second 24-hour readathon in April of 2013. The books each contain four chapters and each chapter reads like a short story. The stories all manage to be entertaining, and most have a lesson in them somewhere.

There’s so many great things about the books. My two favorites are that they present Africa as a modern place and that Anna Hibiscus is biracial. Anna Hibiscus’ race is such a non-issue in the earlier books, I actually forgot about it until I reread them.*

Some of the stories do deal with heavier issues, notably poverty, but they always do it in a way that fits with the story and never becomes heavy-handed or overly didactic.

The only disappointment I have about the series is that Atinuke is a British author, so the books are difficult to find in the US. I didn’t even know that there were two more books in the series until I started trying to buy them. I was going to give the series to my niece for her birthday, but it’s such a pain to find the books I think we’ll just check them out from the library together instead.

Anna Hibiscus is a series that anyone can enjoy. I am well outside the intended audience, and I was entertained by all of Anna Hibiscus’ stories.

Titles in the series:
+ Anna Hibiscus
+ Hooray for Anna Hibiscus!
+ Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus!
+ Have Fun, Anna Hibiscus!
+ Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus!
+ Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!
+ Anna Hibiscus’ Song (picture book)
+ Splash, Anna Hibiscus! (picture book)

*Anna Hibiscus’ race is touched upon in the last book, Go Well, Anna Hibiscus!

The List Is Done!

I haven’t finished it. But I have finished writing it.

I have a little over a year left in my 1001 days, and I’m probably not going to make it. Well, hopefully I make it to next July, but I won’t finish the list in that time. As I’ve said before, that’s OK. I’ll just take all my unfinished goals and roll them over and start a new list.

I like to leave myself a lot of wiggle room when writing an 101 list, because I know my priorities will change over the course of time, and they definitely changed over the course of this list. One year left seems like a reasonable time to pin everything down though.

I added nine goals this week: to read all the Sherlock Holmes short stories/novellas/novel. Since this is something I want to do anyway, it made sense to put it on the list. I read A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the spring of 2012. I don’t remember the exact date, but I know it was around the time I started watching Sherlock and Elementary was announced. Then I just stopped reading them. I don’t quite know why. But now I will finish reading the stories (hopefully).

ETA: Whoops. When I was adding these goals to the list, I thought I had read the first Sherlock Holmes novellas/short story collection in 2013, but I actually read it in 2012 before I started my 101 in 1001 challenge. The list is still complete. I just removed those three goals from the list and replaced them. The replacement goals are to read a new book in a day, read a nonfiction book and to read only books I own that I’ve never read (for one month).

Words for Wednesday

When a few classmate dropped out after the first year, I both envied and pitied them. I didn’t dare think about doing the same, as it would have been an admission of failure to my mother. Instead, I chose Edith Wharton as my dissertation subject because I’d read The Age of Innocence so many times and hadn’t yet grown to hate it. I told myself that maybe everyone took their vocational cues this way. Maybe everyone felt like an imposter and this was why my classmates drank so much. -Pioneer Girl, Lee Lien

A Useful Reading Tip

I’m constantly learning how to read about other cultures. Let’s be honest, I’m also constantly learning how to read about my own cultures. One thing I learned while on hiatus is to distrust anything that talks about Africa or American Indians as a monolith.

I’m sure it’s something I’ve read many times without noticing: American Indians do this*, a tribe in Africa does that. These groups are not monolithic (in the same way Asians are not monolithic**), but they are often portrayed as such. When talking about a people, specificity is everybody’s friend.

Now when I read anything about groups I’m not familiar with, especially American Indians, I always look for specific mentions of a nation or tribe. I check to see if the author is an American Indian or not and see if they cite a source for their story if it’s an adaptation. If I can’t find this information in the book itself, I try and research the story to see where it comes from, if it’s accurate, how good the representation is, etc (American Indians in Children’s Literature is a good resource/starting point).

I’m discovering that I have somehow accumulated a huge number of books with problematic portrayals of American Indians (almost all of them are aimed at children). I’m currently trying to decide what to do with these books (I want to get rid of a lot of them, but feels irresponsible to simply give them away). Have any suggestions?

*I used the present tense purposely here. Oftentimes authors will talk about American Indians exclusively in the past tense, another warning sign you should look out for.

**I’ve never had that much trouble recognizing monolithic thinking/representation when it came to Asians, but I never really thought about how other cultures/peoples are presented as monoliths. Sometimes it’s difficult to look outside ourselves.