I'd never heard of this novel until I was offered a copy by the publisher, but it sounded sufficiently intriguing to get me reading it. Here's the blurb:
Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet.
After sixteen-year-old Lydia goes missing and her body turns up in the lake, the police rule it as a suicide. But Lydia's family are determined to search for clues to find out what really happened...
Dead teenagers, police, clues... I think I was misled by these into thinking it would be a different sort of novel. In case you haven't read it yet, I must tell you that it is not a crime story in any accepted sense of the term. Yes, there is a mysterious death, and yes, we don't find out the facts of what happened till the end, but that is really just a starting point for the real subject -- the effect on the family of this terrible event, and the history of how and why it happened in the first place.
It is 1977. The Lees are an unusual family, or at least unusual in the small Ohio town where they live. James, a History professor, had hoped for a job at Harvard, where the fact that he is Chinese American would not have mattered much, but ended up teaching at a small college where it definitely does. Marilyn, his all-American wife, whose mother more or less disowned her when she discovered that she was marrying an 'Oriental', is a thwarted and driven woman, whose unfulfilled ambitions to be a doctor have become focused on Lydia. As for their three children, the fact of being mixed race has affected pretty much everything in their lives. Everyone in this family, then, is profoundly unhappy, and they are all hiding things from each other. Lydia's death causes them all to unravel, with disturbing results.
I wish I could say that I loved this novel, but sadly I did not. Not that it's badly written or anything, just that I found it pretty bleak and depressing. The characters are well observed, the scenario is believable, but I just didn't want to be immersed in the problems of these people. That sounds really insensitive, and its not that I haven't read and enjoyed novels about dysfunctional families in the past. Perhaps part of the problem was that I was expecting a different kind of novel? Perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood? However, Amazon has recently chosen at as the book of the year, and it's had great reviews, like this one in the Guardian, so clearly I'm in a minority here. But I'm grateful for the chance to read it, and I'm sure lots of people will continue to love it, so congratulations to Celeste Ng, and long may her success continue.