“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
With those two opening sentences, Ng hooks the reader. Why is Lydia is dead? Who doesn’t know this yet? Why don’t they know? A flood of questions immediately pop up forcing the reader to move forward in the hopes of finding out.
It turns out, Lydia is the oldest of three siblings and the favorite of her parents. She is the string that holds the family together. When she is found dead, the string that connects them as a family completely unravels and throws them into chaos. They must learn how to live as a family without her.
Ng keeps the reader turning the pages as he takes them on a slow journey to understand why Lydia dead, unraveling the secrets of a family and the consequences of loving too much and not loving enough.
While Lydia’s death is predictable early on, the realization of why she is dead is heartbreaking. Especially because the whole thing could have been prevented. If only Lydia had spoken up for herself. If only her parents hadn’t been so reliant. If only, if only if only. I think Ng says it best at the start of the second chapter:
“How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers…”
This paragraph sticks out because it is full of so much truth. How much of ourselves is defined by our parents and our parent’s parents? We end up taking after them in some ways and they took after their own parents.
But as Ng slowly entrusts to the reader, this family had its secrets and each member of the family had its own demons. Unfortunately, due to these secrets, the family ends up with a tragedy.
I liked how Ng parallels the parents early lives to that of their children, weaving multiple story lines with Lydia as the center. I particularly like Lydia’s brother’s story and how close he was to his sister. They had a special bond and understood each other’s wants. I thought it ironic that one wanted to be in the others shoes. If only…
Then there is poor Hannah, the youngest, who is completely ignored and looks at everything like an outside party. She is part of the family and yet a complete stranger. In some ways she is the one that helps the reader understand the chaos that is going on.
At first, I didn’t think I was going to like this book. Lydia is dead. What else is there to say. But as I found out so much more. By the end of the book, I was crying for Lydia and for Marilyn and Nath and Hannah and all the characters. I closed the book and sat for awhile just thinking about my own family. Why my siblings broke away when they did, what would have happened if I never made the break? In some ways, this book is almost a warning to families that there is such a thing of loving too much.
I can’t wait for November as this was just picked for our book club read. I can’t wait to discuss it and see how everyone took it.