But she did not know how to explain what had happened, how everything had changed in just one day, how someone she loved so dearly could be there one minute, and the next minute: gone.
Celeste Ng was a new author to me, but she is certainly at the top of my list now. Everything I Never Told You is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about family, love, and the secrets people keep from each other. It is solidly literary fiction, but with a mystery, which is one of my favorite genres. So while the subject is certainly a heavy one (a teenager dies), Ng writes about it in a way that will keep up late reading.
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” This is the striking beginning to Ng’s story about a Chinese-American family living in Ohio in the 1970s. Lydia is the favorite middle child of James and Marilyn Lee, and when her body is found at the bottom of a nearby lake, no one in her family understands how it could have happened. Throughout the story, we find out how Lydia’s parents met, and what her brother and sister might know about what really happened to her the night she died.
This story broke my heart over and over, but the writing was so good that I had to keep going back in for more. The subject of a child dying was tough to read at times, especially being a parent, but Ng is such a skilled storyteller, and I trusted where she was taking the story. And while the novel does center on a tragedy, it’s really about the bigger picture of familial relationships: husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister. It is a delicate, poignant look at what it looks like when parents place their own insecurities onto their children, and how negatively that can affect them, even with the best of intentions. Lydia’s parents each placed pressure on her that they didn’t really mean to, without ever asking what she wanted for herself. (And making some rather selfish decisions themselves, which made me angry.) Ng does a wonderful job showing the long-term ripple effect that even the smallest of choices can make.
Everything I Never Told You is a wonderfully-written novel about family and family secrets, long-lost dreams and expectations. If you like literary fiction with a little mystery and a lot of heart, I cannot recommend this one enough.
Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be out on September 12, 2017, and you can bet I’m pre-ordering it!
I just need you to be good. I need you to be the good girl you are.
I hesitate to even write a review about this book because I just want you to read it without any spoilers! Jennie Melamed’s Gather the Daughters is a dystopian novel that brings to mind The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World, but also adds a new angle to this genre. I love dystopian stories, and haven’t seen one like this in awhile.
Gather the Daughters takes place on an isolated island, a place that was founded after the country (the Wasteland) was supposedly incinerated by fire. The original ten men and their families created the rules and no one except the ten men and their descendants, called the Wanderers, are allowed to leave the island. The women on the island are raised to be wives and breeders. The only freedom they have is during the summer as children, when they are allowed to run free and wild until they reach puberty. At the end of one summer, Caitlin Jacobs sees something she shouldn’t, and it is so horrific that she cannot ignore it. 17-year-old Janey Solomon, who is starving herself in order to delay puberty, takes it upon herself to lead the girls away from their families and to discover the truth about the island. The young daughters realize that the way they’ve been treated isn’t right, but aren’t sure if they’re strong enough or smart enough to actually make it off the island. Will they be able to change their collective fate, or will the status quo hold strong?
I was both obsessed with and disturbed by this book, and I stand by that. Has this basic plot been done before? Yes, but not exactly like this. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a dystopian novel quite like this, and Melamed has made a great addition to the genre. The story is haunting, disturbing, and gripping, and is an absolute page-turner. Melamed has taken what has become an extremely relevant topic today (a governing body of men having 100% control over women’s bodies) and turned it on its head, in an extreme way. This book will have you cringing, yelling at the characters, cheering them on, and, ultimately, hoping against all hope that the daughters just. Get. Out.
This book does need a few disclaimers. Melamed, a psychiatric nurse practitioner who works with traumatized kids, covers some serious and disturbing subjects in Gather the Daughters, including abuse, incest, and some disturbing mating rituals. If any of these are triggers for you, this might be a book to skip!
I started out listening to this as an audiobook, but since it definitely wasn’t appropriate to listen to around my kids, I finished it by reading it, because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. I think both versions are great, and if you like audiobooks, the narrator for this one does a great job. Her voices for the characters are fantastic, and she herself has a very sweet voice, which makes listening to the story even more disturbing.
Young Jane Young
Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin for providing Texas Girl Reads with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.
“I’m not a murderer,” she says. “I’m a slut, and you can’t be acquitted of that.”
Sometimes we need a book to just tell it like it is. To not skirt around the issues, but face them head on. Gabrielle Zevin, the author of The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, is a pro at this in Young Jane Young. If you like women’s fiction and politics, this is the book for you. It’s fun and funny, but Zevin also takes a good, hard look at the huge gap between the expectations of men and women in professional settings.
Aviva Grossman is a congressional intern in Florida, and she goes into the job the way most people do in their 20s: with gusto and unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly as planned. She has an affair with a congressman and blogs about it. Her blog is anonymous, but when the congressman gets into a car accident (with Aviva in the car), the press finds out who the author really is. After the scandal, the congressman goes back to work and regular life. Aviva, however, is shamed by the media and unable to find a job. Anywhere. She decides the only way to move on is to move to Maine and change her name and, hopefully, her luck. But the past always has a way of showing up again, and when it does, Aviva must decide what to do.
This is not only a fun book, it is very smart women’s fiction. Zevin is witty and funny, and there were several laugh out loud moments for me because of her irreverent humor. The format is unique, alternating points of view between characters, as well as different formats for each section. One is all e-mails. Another is a riff on the choose your own adventure stories. Zevin pulls this off expertly, and the unique formatting added to the quirkiness of the story.
This is a great story, and it almost felt like a good friend telling me about a crazy adventure she had, and I love that. It’s fun, and it’s the perfect book to read after a string of emotionally-heavy novels. That being said, the book does address how much more difficult it is for women in professional settings when they make the same mistakes as men. The congressman keeps his job and his marriage, and Aviva has to fabricate a completely different façade for herself just to have a life. Zevin has written about an important topic and added a large dose of humor, and I loved it!
Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.
“I thought she was jealous cause I was happy. I thought I was smart and loved a bad man turned good. I’ve been on a losing streak a long time.”
Every once in awhile, a book comes along that completely knocks me off my feet and leaves me thinking about it for days and weeks and months after. Leah Weiss’s debut novel, If the Creek Don’t Rise, is one of those, and I cannot give enough praise to her writing. This is an extraordinary first novel about the south, family, and survival.
“You knock them fake stars outta your blind eyes, Sadie Blue, or you gonna lay with the devil and live in hell. When that happens, I can’t help you.”
Sadie Blue, pregnant with her first child, has been married to Roy Tupkin for less than a month, but it’s enough time for her to realize she never should have even looked at him. But in Appalachia, survival rules, and no one has time to save Sadie when they’re all trying to save themselves. When a new schoolteacher moves to Baines Creek, the remote town where this cast of characters lives, some people begin to see things a little differently, and Sadie might be able to find a way to save herself.
This is not a wimpy book. From the first sentence, we are thrust into the middle of this world, and it is not idyllic. There is poverty, there is abuse, there are families struggling just to survive another day. This book is the very definition of warts and all, and Weiss’s writing is so strong that I felt as though I were in the characters’ homes watching what was happening to them. The story is written so beautifully and honestly, and while it does cover some tough subjects, there is hope, and there are absolutely characters to root for.
Weiss uses multiple points of view throughout the novel, as well as writing in a particular Southern dialect. That can sometimes fall flat in novels, but she did it in such a way that it really helped to distinguish the characters, and I could hear each and every one of them as individuals in my head. Some characters, such as preacher Eli Perkins, are well educated and speak “properly,” and that is reflected in the text. It really added a lot to the story.
If the Creek Don’t Rise is heartbreaking, and parts of it are difficult to read, but it is also a love letter of sorts to the people in that part of the country. Appalachia is often the butt of jokes in the media (I’m sure you can think of a movie or show that’s used it as a joke, or perhaps a derogatory word comes to mind.) and not taken seriously as a culture. While there are real problems in that region, Weiss depicts a group of people who are survivors. They may not be the survivors we see in movies who end up with nice houses and lovely spouses, but they are surviving abuse, poverty, lack of education, and being stuck in a remote area. Their way of life is just as real as anyone else’s. The characters in this novel, and I suspect in real life, may not be worldly, but they are tough. This is Southern fiction at its best, and I certainly hope Ms. Weiss has more in store for all of us.
If the Creek Don’t Rise will be published on August 22, 2017.[Top]
My 8-year-old has been asking for this book for awhile, and I’m glad we finally picked it up! The narrator, Tom, claims he is terrible at drawing and can only draw stick figures. Hence, Stick Dog. It is is similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books in that it’s part graphic novel, part beginner novel, with lots of silly adventures. It’s funny, the writing is clever, and in a bookish world that can prove difficult to find book series that boys might like that don’t involve gross or violent storylines, the Stick Dog series sticks out (pun not completely intended), and I’m glad for it. This book is also fantastic for reluctant readers! The print is large, the story is funny, and there are a bunch in the series, so your reader doesn’t have to worry that their reading enjoyment will end after this book.
Tyrannosaurus Rex (Smithsonian Little Explorer
If your kid loves dinosaurs and you’re looking for a fun, informative book that doesn’t include blood everywhere (Seriously, we have so many dinosaur books that would fit right in with the Walking Dead cast.), this is the one! It’s perfect for young readers, and they will learn a lot about the T-rex. My 6-year-old loves it, and he loves to tell me what he’s learning about the dinosaurs, and show me the (realistic but not completely terrifying) pictures. The entire Smithsonian Little Explorer series is great!
What We’re Reading Together
This Book Will Not Be Fun
A very studious mouse is determined not to have fun in this new picture book, until a flying whale goes by and he is forced into an adventure. I took a chance on this one-my boys are in a weird reading stage. They still like big picture books, but they are too old for a lot of them. Unfortunately, this one was deemed “boring” by both my boys, and I kind of have to agree. I think it is perfect for the 5 and under crowd, and a wonderful read-aloud book for them. The drawings are cute, and the mouse ends up being silly and fun. But if you have kids who are really reading and are ready for more substance, I would suggest staying with picture books such as Those Darn Squirrels! and The Book with No Pictures.[Top]