I was completely absorbed in this beautifully written story about family and identity. I can’t believe it’s the author’s debut novel. It’s stunning – intriguing, bittersweet and painful.
Set in 1970s Ohio, the story begins with the death of sixteen-year-old Lydia. What follows is an exploration of the events and experiences which led to this tragedy and also the aftermath. Everything is centred on the Lee family: James and Marilyn, and their children Lydia, Nath and Hannah. The novel is partly about how parents live through their children and pressurise them to do better than they did. James, who as a Chinese American found he never belonged, is eager for his kids – Lydia in particular – to fit in and have lots of friends. Marilyn, whose ambition to become a doctor was sacrificed to her role as mother and housewife, buys medical textbooks for Lydia and would rather she concentrated on physics than friends. The novel is also about perceptions of race and how people don’t always see beyond others’ appearance and backgrounds. I found it odd to see the word ‘Oriental’, a word which was probably common at the time the book is set and which now is often considered as politically incorrect.
The story is told in the third person from different characters. I’m not usually a fan of third person narrative but this was well done. The narrative got right inside the head of each family member. The characterisation is very strong; they are real people. Another positive point about this book is that the length is just right.
Highly recommended. First published in 2014.