Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. 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.
I picked up this book mistakenly assuming this is a YA; on Day 2 of my private Readathon and have got a lot of socialization going on in the next 3 days, I wanted to read something I’d get to finish in one day.
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was wrong about this book; this book turned out to be much more complex than I had originally anticipated dealing with a lot of important issues that have been deeply-entrenched in our society; racism, gender identity, and discrimination/ prejudice.
First and foremost, I found it simply incredible this book being the author’s debut novel; the pacing is just right and the writing is gorgeous. Nothing seemed out of place.
The issues (the slight one, no, there are two actually ) that I had was lack of characterization. I wanted a bit more in-depth characterization and character developments.
Also, I was a bit comfused with the intertwined timelines. I’m not sure if you call it ‘three-dimensional,’ but the timeline where the story is told keeps jumping back and forth; in one paragraph timeline centered on the present, but in the next paragraph it goes back in late 1970’s. It keeps going on and on, so it took some getting used to and was a bit hard to keep track of the timeline I was in. I needed to stay focused.
None the less, it’s still a laudable and an amazing read. Such a page-turner. It was a sheer joy to read this book.
Story-wise, it’s really complex. It’s got a thriller element where readers and the characters try to piece together the fragments of clues and get behind the death of Lydia.
But I think the real focus lies on the mix-raced broken family – James of Chinese decent and Marilyn being American. Both of them drag a dark past of ‘not fitting in’ or ‘standing out in a wrong way,’ and have been subject to prejudice and discrimination.
Now, what I find most poignant and heart-breaking is that both of them, of all people, who HAVE experienced the prejudice against themselves, impose their own dream on their children – in particular, on their favorite second child, Lydia.
James is all anxious about her having a lot of friends and blending in while Marilyn superimposes herself over Lydia and kind of forces her to pursue her dream on her behalf, which Marilyn had to give up on the face of reality.
To me, personally, Marilyn crossed the line. Her pushiness seems like an obsession; I felt sick in the stomach reading how persistently and forcibly Marilyn imposes her own dream on Lydia while completely neglecting her other kids – Nath and Hannah.
Lydia has become the center of her world and she shoves other kids away.
The writing is absolutely stunning. It beautifully depicts how this vulnerable family barely hangs on a balance. They are literally on edge so even one tiny push can tip the family over and make it collapse. On top of all that, the real issue of this family is rooted deeply in the very parents. What they had gone through in their youth makes what they are and sows the seeds of the problems.
The depiction of slow-death demise of the family was simply captivating.
Lydia’s inner struggles are also well-narrated and I couldn’t read it without feeling a lump in my throat. The pressure she was put under by her parents – particularly Marilyn was really sickening; I really felt disgusted at times.
That being said though, this book does end on a positive note.
The element of redemption and renew/ rebirth is definitely there.
This is absolutely a fantastic, gripping read.
If you are in any way interested in this book, there’s no reason/excuse to put off reading it.
I fell in love with her writing and this story. I’m thinking of getting her second novel ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ already!