Wednesday, September 9, 2015


It’s 1977, and we know from the beginning that Lydia Lee is dead.  The pertinent questions then are how and why.  As the mystery of her death unfolds, the layers of a seriously dysfunctional family are peeled back.  Lydia and her brother Nathan are the only Asian-Americans in their high school, and both struggle with loneliness. Lydia is more than just the apple of her parents’ eyes; she is her mother Marilyn’s designated avatar to achieve her unfulfilled goal of becoming a physician.  Lydia’s father James, acutely aware that his children are battling the same prejudices that he has, just wants Lydia to fit in and be popular.  However, Lydia goes to great lengths to conceal her dearth of friends from her father and has made a pact with herself to please her mother in every way possible, at the expense of her own happiness.  She finally rebels by striking up a friendship with Jack, a neighbor boy with a scandalous reputation.  Nathan is the only one in the family who knows about this clandestine relationship and strongly suspects that Jack knows more than he’s telling about what happened to Lydia.  Jack’s nervous behavior suggests that Nathan is right and that Jack might even be involved somehow in Lydia’s death.  I love the way this story unfolds as we slowly get to know Lydia and what was going on in her head, but I found it difficult to really like anyone in the family except the youngest daughter Hannah, who was born after the most traumatic family crisis prior to Lydia’s disappearance.  She seems to be the least damaged and the most perceptive when it comes to judging character.  However, her participation in the family drama is tangential, and drama abounds.  I always find a novel unsettling when it concerns parents who are completely in the dark about their children’s lives. In this case, the frustrations and disappointments of the parents are trickling down to their children in unpredictable ways.

No comments: