I had seen this book in a lot of lists and kept wanting to read it but it kept getting put on the back burner for other books. I was not aware, however, that it is termed a Young Adult novel because it really does not feel like it. There are no young adult tropes here. As a reader, I found the experience to be extremely realistic and challenging. And often, young adult does not feel that way.
Celeste Ng really puts you in the midst of this mixed race family, puts your face in their lives, feelings and thoughts. At no point do we think it is at all possible that Lydia Lee, the oldest daughter of the family, is alive. It is clear she is dead. This novel is not about revenge, it is instead about how a family grieves. It is also about the trials and tribulations of a mixed race family in the 60s and 70s.
Each character is pretty well fleshed out. It is clear what each wants (when they themselves figure it out). All of them, in some way, have desires that are not easily attainable or somehow impossible. If not that, then they are pitiable in some way. I think the saddest character is the youngest of the Lee family, Hannah. She is frequently ignored and has no autonomy. She tries to get her family’s attention by taking things of theirs but they never realize it. She just kind of meekly floats around. She doesn’t even have her own room – she’s up in the attic, forgotten.
I mostly felt sad listening to this. All of the characters are just sad people who are not able to get away from their little boxes they make for themselves. The mother, Marilyn, is frequently the victim and the perpetrator of this. She is ensconced by her own mother, who in turn, ensconces her own daughter. Terribly interesting.
I realized halfway through listening that the same woman who read it, Cassandra Campbell, had also read a book I listened to for my book club called Bird Box (which is an amazing thriller, if you haven’t read it!). Her voice is kind of breathy and appropriately intense when it needs to be.
There’s a lot to process here. You can’t just skim through it. I’m still processing long after hearing.