“Lydia is dead.” The opening words of this novel shatter any hope that this young girl we’re about to read all about could possibly be alive. Lydia was the middle child of Marilyn and James Lee. Marilyn, a typical WASP, wanted desperately to not end up like her mother, a housewife with no aspirations other than raising a family. In the 1960s that meant working harder than her fellow male students and catching a lot of sexist resistance on her way to becoming a doctor. James’ parents came to America from China and had to work day and night to give their son a chance to achieve the American Dream. James constantly faced discrimination growing up and desperately sought to assimilate and just become a typical American, going so far as to plan a career in history (the American West). When James and Marilyn meet in college they find in each other what they’ve been searching for. But having their first child derails Marilyn’s school dreams and she becomes resentful. After the birth of Lydia she promises that her daughter will never have to grow up like she did. Marilyn will push her daughter to academic excellence. James is also determined to see Lydia, the only child to inherit blues eyes, fit in. He wants Lydia to have all the friends he never had.
The problem with all of this is Lydia doesn’t want any of it. The burden of her parents’ gaze is too heavy. After her death, her family struggles to discover why she’d end her life and they reach out in unexpected and devastating ways. Their other children Nathan and Hannah might hold answers that their parents were oblivious to. But can these answers help their family recover from such a tragedy? Are they going to be broken forever?
This book was crazy intense. I could not put it down and I was thoroughly depressed by the end… but in a good way? Ng does a great job shifting between character perspectives and weaving a story that is both haunting and profound. My favorite character was little Hannah. So used to being ignored she has taken to lurking under tables and stealing family possessions that won’t be missed. She’s emotionally attuned to everyone in her family and offers great insight. I highly recommend this title and will admit that it lives up to the hype that surrounds it.