Here we are at the second book I bought on Amazon this year (the first being Circe, which I reviewed a few days ago). It was published 5 years ago and yet somehow I found Amazon pushing it on me, possibly because they had it lead their 100 best books of 2014. Either way, it made it’s way to me and since I was craving fiction in the last few months it got quickly picked up.
It is a story of the Lee family, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. We meet them when their precious daughter Lydia vanishes without a trace. As there is no computers, mobile phones or social media to help Lydia really does vanish. This serves as a trigger that uncovers things in the family that were never discussed. For example, Marylin Lee is white, while her husband James is Chinese.
It may not seem like an issue now, but it certainly was in the 1960’s, to a point that Marylin never spoke to her mother after the wedding. Gradually they also discover how their perception of happiness differs, where he wants to fit in at all cost, he wants to become an American, to never have his origin questioned and if he cannot achieve it at least that’s what he hopes for his children. She, on the other hand, wants to stand out, challenge the norms, be exquisite and if she cannot achieve that, then her dear Lydia should.
This way Lydia got trapped between her parent’s unfulfilled dreams, becoming the vessel to hold them and deliver. What you may not realize is that Lydia has siblings: Nath and Hannah. Nath is her confidante, they become very close during a traumatic episode in their childhood and Nath is the only one who understands how unwilling Lydia is to be the center of the universe. But at the same time, he and Hannah are also very much forgotten by their parents and as they get older sadness and resentment kicks in.
It is a crime novel, but it is more a novel about the family that was founded in the best faith, but that has become undone under the pressure of daily racism and unfulfilled dreams. I would not say it was a brilliant book, somehow it didn’t move me, I found it difficult to care about James and Marylin, I cared for Lydia, Nath, and Hannah, but it felt like they didn’t have enough of breathing space to develop into fully formed characters. Still, for a debut novel, this is a very mature book and it read well.