Summer (Bedside) Reading: Week 2
Well, it’s Week 2 of your Summer Reading Assignment.
That’s right. This summer reading list is rigorous. Maybe I just went to a particularly strict school, it was a parochial school after all, but I remember returning home on my last day with an assignment of reading 10 books before the bell rang on that Tuesday after Labor Day.
That is, according to my rudimentary math skills, both then and now, 1 book per week for that precious 10 week summer. As much of a reader as I was, I never did make it to that 10 book benchmark. It was impossible not to feel like I was being set up to sheepishly admit to my teacher that I’d only read 7, with that classmate, who’s hand was perpetually raised with either a snide comment or insistence on homework collection, poised to swoop in and claim they read not only the 10 required, but 5 additional books because “for the love of reading” etc. We all knew someone like that. And if you didn’t it’s probably because you were that someone.
But, this isn’t actually about who can read more books. Here’s hoping that this list will make you want to climb into bed a few minutes earlier than usual. In my case, ten minutes into laying in bed with a book I’m out like a light. The funny thing is that the light on my bedside table is certainly not out. It’s on, and it’s racking up my ConEd bill.
Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
So let me simply begin with the fact that this story made me cry on the subway, and that, though not entirely unheard of, is relatively hard to do.
There is something incredibly private about the title, immediately causing my mind to well with all the things I’ve never told people – and most of them, though small, can needle almost imperceptible holes in relationships and personal confidence, making foundations just a bit shakier.
There are also plenty far more trivial items, like how I start almost all of my days either listening to Tubthumping by Chuwumbawa or Mozart’s Moonlight Sonata, depending on if I need a burst of energizing inspiration (though many would argue this song does not inspire, I beg to differ) or a meditative moment. But see? Now you know, and it is no longer something I never told you. This idea that these things, some deliberately hidden, some kept sacred, some just simply assumed unimportant and uninteresting to others, serve as daily reminders that our minds are under lock, and truly, we are the only ones with the key. This book deals with the kinds of secrets that wear us down and inform how we act, think, breathe, even if we aren’t consciously aware of how much power they have over us.
Oh, and there are 2 covers, in case you’re thumbing through a bookshelf looking…
Like so many other stories, this is the story of a family. A broken family, but a family nonetheless. After the body of their prized daughter and favorite child is found in the lake near their home, Marilyn and James Lee find themselves abruptly face to face with the demons of their past. Entangled in the complicated family dynamic they’ve created by stacking their forgotten dreams and their own shortcomings on their children, they struggle to navigate their grief, at both the loss of their daughter, and loss of the lives they had hoped to lead. Augmented by their own cultural differences in the late 1970’s, Marilyn a white, blonde, upper class woman fighting for a foothold in a predominately male career path, and James who is the son of two hardworking Chinese immigrants, they find themselves boxed and tethered in a world that tends not to like anything out of the ordinary.
All the while, their two remaining, and unintentionally neglected, children attempt to find their places in this new, horribly off kilter reality, even though, being the only Chinese students in their Ohio suburb school, they never really had places to begin with.
A twisted and delicate web of disappointment, misunderstanding, and silence, this poignant novel focuses on everything that has never been said, shapeshifting from a story about a deeply ostracized family to a story about the quiet outsider, needing not just love, but the right kind of love, in all of us.
Ng has a gift for crafting layered characters and bringing out the tender moments and relationships that shape us. I think it is easy to forget that everyone’s lives are as nuanced and intricate as yours, even, and perhaps especially, your parents. Especially, especially when you’re in high school. I cringe thinking back at my ponytailed, penniless, and demanding high school self asking for rides, rolling my eyes, thinking my parents simply popped into existence the moment I was born.
A hell of a read, even if it does make you cry in public. And really, a good public cry is grossly underrated.