In one word: Downward spiral
A quick summary of my feels on this book, as told via texts to my friend, the librarian leading our book club discussion group.
Ma’am I am really into this searching for Sylvie Lee!! It’s very readable but I keep putting it down cuz it’s a bit sad. But very good.
Okay so now I’m halfway through and it’s just so diiiire. Like a grey day in The Netherlands. Perfect for our shit weather. Ha.
This book. (Insert side-eye emoji). Started strong. And then I’ve been knocking off stars by the half point. Good writing, interesting story. I have a hard time when bad things keep getting piled onto people. My one word to describe this book may be “unrelenting.” Ha. Ooh. Or plodding!
So, what’s the book about? Sylvie Lee has gone to The Netherlands to say good-bye to her dying grandmother. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she was raised by her loving grandmother, unfeeling aunt, and doting uncle. She and her cousin were two peas in a homogonous European pod but she hasn’t seen any of them since she went back to New York to be reunited with her parents and baby sister when she was 9. After her grandmother’s death, Sylvie is set to return to the United States, but she doesn’t, so where is she? This book jumps POV from Sylvie’s recent past (prior to the disappearance), to the present with chapters from both her sister Amy and her Ma’s point of view, as they struggle with her absence and search for her.
Where I landed on my one word for the book club was “downward spiral” (yes, I cheat and use more than one word, I’m the rebel of the book club) in that both the characters were sent into downward spirals AND it felt a personal downward spiral as I read it.
All this to say, I was in the minority of the club. everyone else really liked this book. I don’t dispute that it is a good book, it is just not the kind of story I like to read. When the main conflict of a story revolves around family secrets, I end up wanting to chuck the book across the room. Com-mu-ni-ca-tion people!! You are all just one, maybe two, thoughtful (albeit awkward) conversations away from living full lives! But noooooo you just let the secrets crush everything. (Shakes fist at the sky). See also, “Everything I Never Told You,” Celeste Ng’s book which also is about a) an Asian family b) unspoken truths c) fear of water. It also was very well-received, but I did not like AT ALL. So essentially if you like that one, check this out, and if you didn’t skip it.
Last tidbit: I must add that I learned that this story is based on Kwok’s own family history, in that her brother went missing and she was left to search for him (which ended tragically) and that enriched my understanding of the story and the characters, but I just didn’t enjoy reading it.