This certainly wasn’t the most uplifting book, was it?
Buy that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good one. And it’s definitely one that’s going to stay with me for a very long time. It’s going to make me think about some of the parenting choices that ive made over the past 12 years, and make me wonder about some of the decisions my own parents made when I was growing up. And it’s going to make me teach my son to make his own damn hard-boiled eggs.
The story is about a dead girl named Lydia in early 1970s Ohio. She’s dead when the story begins, but her family doesn’t know yet. She drowned in the lake at the top of her nice, safe, suburban street, leaving behind her parents, her older brother, Nath, and her younger sister, Hannah.
But its Lydia who is everyone’s favorite. Her brother and sister simply exist in her shadow. Her parents thought that she was the sun that the rest of the family revolved around, when in actuality, Lydia felt like a failure and a liar.
She wasn’t the star science student that her mother wanted and needed her to be. She was never going to be able to be a doctor, no matter how badly her mom wished it. Her mom was supposed to be a doctor, but she left Harvard when she got pregnant and got married instead.
And Lydia wasn’t the popular, normal, “American” teenage girl that her father wanted, either. All he wanted was to have Lydia fit in — to have friends to gossip on the phone with and go the the mall with. Her dad grew up isolated from everyone in his own school — he was the only Chinese student ever at his private high school. But Lydia didn’t have friends and simply lied to her family about it. She was alone most of the time, and ready to burst from the pressure of it all.
Toss in some “casual” 1970s racism, parents who are aimlessly drifting through their marriage, and a mysterious boy who lives at the end of the street, and you’ve got quite a depressing mystery. Who was the real Lydia? Did anyone even know? Why was she alone on the lake in the middle of the night? Lydia couldn’t even swim. She was smarter than that. Wasn’t she?
This book was beautifully written. Celeste Ng brought the 1970s back to life in vivid, polyester blend colors. I could feel how hard it was for each of these siblings to simply exist every day — Nath, who just wanted to be noticed for the brilliant young man that he was, and Hannah, who was so much more than just a late-in-life “mistake”. And for Lydia, who was so afraid to disappoint her parents in any way. Who never wanted to be responsible for anything that might diminish the love that they showed her.
Yeah, this one’s a tearjerker for sure, but so good. I’d put it on par with other 1970s novels like The Virgin Suicices, The Ice Storm, and Middlesex. But my god, now I really need to read something brainless and uplifting. This one was tough.