I love book lists. Give me a list of award books or a list of books you absolutely adored, and I will slowly make my way through the list until I have read them all. Today’s book is one I discovered on an award list. The title is Everything I Never Told You and is Celeste Ng’s debut novel. I first heard of Everything I Never Told You when I was tuned in to watch the Alex Awards online. The Alex Awards are an award given out by the American Library Association (ALA) to the 10 best adult books that have special appeal to teens. (This book has also been on numerous other lists and won another award. Check out Celeste Ng’s website for more information.)
Everything I Never Told You begins, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” After those simple, yet devastating, few sentences, Ng weaves together the story of a Chinese-American family growing up in 1970s Ohio. Each family member is outlined: the professor father James, stay-at-home mother Marilyn, older brother Nathan who is desperate to leave home, younger sister Hannah who seems to blend into the background, and the middle golden-child Lydia whose mother and father have placed all of their hopes on her shoulders, as well as several other members of the community. When Lydia’s body is found in the lake right down the street from their house, the entire family falls apart.
This book delves into the complex nature of the Lees: family, history, home, and the struggles we all make on a daily basis to understand each other and to find ourselves.
If that description caught your interest, check out No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale. This book deals with similar concepts of love, loss, and the tragic and upheaving nature of death. This book takes place in the small town of Friendship, Wisconsin, where residents have been shocked by the discovery of high school student Ruth Fried’s body in a cornfield. Her best friend, 16-year-old Kippy Bushamn, finds herself trying to solve her best friend’s murder. Ruth’s mother has given Ruth’s diary to Kippy with the express instruction to redact the sexy parts. Kippy sets out to find out who murdered her best friend and discovers that in her small Midwestern town, everyone seems to have secrets.
This quirky murder mystery will have you following Kippy around as she emulates her idol, Diane Sawyer, to figure out who her best friend really was and what really happened when she died.
One hundred years ago this week the unsinkable ship sank. The ship may be gone, but the fascination for the Titanic never ends. Here are some new publications, just in time for the anniversary of the tragedy.
Shadow of the Titanic: the Extraordinary Stories of those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson – Although we think we know the story of Titanic –the famously luxurious and supposedly unsinkable ship that struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Britain to America–very little has been written about what happened to the survivors after the tragedy. How did they cope in the aftermath of this horrific event? How did they come to remember that night, a disaster that has been likened to the destruction of a small town?
Titanic, First Accounts compiles first hand accounts, testimonies, and letters by notable Titanic survivors, including Archibald Gracie, Lawrence Beesley, Elizabeth W. Shutes, and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown.
Titanic Tragedy: a New Look at the Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham includes dramatic survivors’ accounts of the events of the fateful night, the role of newly invented wireless telecommunication in the disaster, the construction and its ramifications at the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, and the dawn rendezvous with the rescue ship Carpathia.
Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats and the Worlds they Came From by R.P.T. Davenport-Hines – a magnificently written history that brings into focus the people involved in this legendary tragedy–the deal makers and industry giants behind the ship’s creation as well as its passengers, both aristocrats and immigrants, and its crew.
The Band that Played On: the Extraordinary Story of the Eight Musicians Who Went Down on the Titanic by Steve Turner reveals a fascinating story including dishonest agents, a clairvoyant, social climbers, and a fraudulent violin maker. Read what brought the band members together and how their music served as the haunting soundtrack for one of modern history”s most tragic maritime disasters.
Author Chang-Rae Lee admits that the first chapter of his book is based upon a tragic event in his father’s life — something so traumatic that his father had never disclosed it — until questioned by his then college-aged son. The chapter features June Han, an 11-year-old orphaned refugee during the Korean War, desperately struggling to flee the approaching military with her younger siblings in tow.
The chapters often leave the reader hanging, wondering what happened, only to open the next one to discover a new character in a totally different time period. We are later introduced to Hector, a handsome American who enlists to fight in Korea, but then decides to remain after the war to work in an orphanage. There, his life becomes entwined with June’s and also with Sylvie Tanner, the beautiful wife of the minister who runs the place. But Sylvie’s story reveals her own scarred and tragic past.
We primarily see June thirty years later, now a successful New York antiques dealer who is dying of cancer, as she reunites with a reluctant Hector in a search for her long-lost son. As the book spans three decades and several continents, The Surrendered is an epic saga, masterfully written with complex characterization, but also, according to Publisher’s Weekly, “a harrowing tale, bleak, haunting, often heartbreaking — and not to be missed.”
After their only child, 7-year-old Benny, dies unexpectedly of meningitis, Frank and Ellie Benton find their once perfect life in Ann Arbor empty and unbearable. When Frank is subsequently offered a new job in Girbaug, India, they grasp at the opportunity for a fresh start. Ellie adapts beautifully, volunteering as a counselor in a free clinic, and relishing in the vibrant color and boisterous activity that is India. Frank, on the other hand, struggles, never quite fitting in or understanding the vast cultural differences. He does, however, befriend a young boy, Ramesh, and becomes consumed with offering this child every opportunity, despite the father’s jealous objections. In the meantime, as Frank neglects his business, labor difficulties continue to fester into riot proportions.
As a ready, I could viscerally sense impending disaster, and even partially predict it. Still, I was caught unawares at the ending and left to marvel at this storyteller’s technique. The Weight of Heaven would make an excellent book club choice. As there are several issues with varying viewpoints presented, the book certainly promises to reap a wealth of healthy discussion.
Three months have passed since Janie’s husband was killed in an accident. She is still awash in grief, barely able to function, struggling to get herself and her two small children through each day when a contractor shows up at her house, ready to build the porch her husband had secrectly planned as a surprise for her.
Over the following months Janie finds strength and solace and even laughter from unlikely sources – her annoying, talkative Aunt, the shy, awkward priest, a neighbor she has nothing in common with, even the contractor who becomes a daily, calming presence in their lives. Slowly the pain lessens and Janie learns that moving on does not mean forgetting the past.
Shelter Me by Juliette Fay is a sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny story of how one family puts itself back together after unimaginable tragedy. The writing is compelling – it’s very hard to put this book down – and the characters so real that they will stay with you long after you finish.