Tag: Celeste Ng

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2015

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2015. Click the titles for links to the full reviews. Check back on Thursday for my top non-fiction picks.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

ISBN 9780316013697

Cover image for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman AlexieIt only took me eight years to get around to reading Sherman Alexie’s popular young adult novel about a Native American boy who decides to leave the Spokane reservation to attend school in a nearby town that is predominantly white. Junior hopes that the education he receives there will help him achieve his dream of becoming an artist, but he struggles to be accepted by his classmates, and also faces rejection by members of his tribe who believe he has betrayed them. Alexie uses dark humour to cope with the tragedy Junior faces in his life, and Ellen Forney’s accompanying illustrations are just as poignant as the prose, but more concise. I actually read this book twice this year, once at the insistence of a friend (thanks, Amelia!) and then again with my book club.

Categories: Young Adult 

Americanah

ISBN 9780307455925

Cover image for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieBy contrast, it only took me two years to get around to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s critically acclaimed novel about a young Nigerian couple, Ifemelu and Obinze, who are separated when Ifemelu goes to the United States for college, and Obinze is unable to get a visa to join her. With America’s borders closed to him, Obinze finds himself in living London on an expired tourist visa, and working as an undocumented immigrant under other peoples’ names. Fifteen years later, Ifemelu decides to return home to Nigeria, though she is unsure if she wants to see Obinze, who is now married. Americanah is a big, sweeping novel that combines cultural criticism with the story of star-crossed lovers. During her time in America, Ifemelu explores the differences between the experiences of a Black African woman, and those of African Americans, and is forced to confront American beauty standards, particularly as they concern hair. When she finally returns home, she must face the fact that she has been changed by America, and that Nigeria has changed in her absence.

Carry On

ISBN 9781250049551

Cover image for Carry On by Rainbow RowellWhen it comes to books I read this year that were just pure fun, Carry On is at the top of the list. Spinning off from her 2013 novel, Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell brings to life the world of Simon Snow, formerly only a story-within-a-story in Fangirl. Simon is the Chosen One, supposedly destined to defeat the Insidious Humdrum, but as he enters his final year at Watford School of Magicks, he is more concerned about the fact that his roommate–the devious vampire Baz–hasn’t turned up for classes, and is probably out there somewhere plotting to kill him. Carry On features a playful magical system built on the power language gains through puns, word play, literary references, and other usages tap into our common imagination. Rowell also riffs on familiar themes and tropes from Chosen One stories, and generally has a rollicking good time.

Categories: Fantasy, Young Adult 

Everything I Never Told You

ISBN 9780143127550

Cover image for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NgThis heartbreaking novel of family tragedy by Celeste Ng topped a lot of last year’s best fiction lists, and for good reason as I finally discovered. When sixteen-year-old Lydia’s body is found in the lake of a small Ohio college town in the spring of 1977, the rug is pulled out from under the Lee family. James and Marilyn’s mixed race marriage is a delicate balancing act, and their children Nath and Hannah struggle with being among the only non-white residents of their small town.  Each member of the family takes a turn narrating, and each understands something about Lydia that the others have missed, but alone none of them can quite understand how she could have died.  As Celeste Ng peels back the layers one at a time, her novel becomes an autopsy of a family in the aftermath of the death of one of its members.

Manners and Mutiny

ISBN 9780316190282

Cover image for Manners and Mutiny by Gail CarrigerAlthough I’ve singled out Manners and Mutiny here, honestly this is a tip of the hat to Gail Carriger’s entire “Finishing School” series, of which Manners and Mutiny is the fourth and final volume. I devoured the first three volumes as audiobooks, delightfully narrated by Moira Quirk, whose accents and voices bring Carriger’s witty banner to life. However, I read Manners and Mutiny in dead-tree form, and can confirm that the books themselves are just as much fun. Sophronia Temminnick’s mother deplores her daughter’s adventuresome behaviour, and decides to send her off to finishing school to become more ladylike. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Temminnick, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is no ordinary finishing school; in addition to learning etiquette and charm, Sophronia also receives a first class education in espionage aboard a wandering dirigible. At the school, Sophronia makes friends and enemies, and becomes versed in the supernatural politics of a Victorian England populated by werewolves and vampires as well as mechanical servants. In Manners and Mutiny, Sophronia is called on to foil a Pickleman plot to take over the nation’s mechanicals. She must also make a choice between Soap and Felix, two very different boys who have been vying for her affections.

Categories: Young Adult, Steampunk

 

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads this year?

Everything I Never Told You

Cover image for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ngby Celeste Ng

ISBN 978-0-14-312755-0

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2015.

“The famous women had bored her. Their stories were all the same: told they couldn’t; decided to anyway. Because they really wanted to, she wondered, or because they were told not to?”

When sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee’s body is found in the lake of their small Ohio college town, the centre is ripped from her family, leaving a void in the place their middle child once occupied. Lydia’s death disturbs the delicate balancing act that was James and Marilyn’s mixed race marriage, begun at a time when miscegenation was still illegal in many states. With the favourite child gone, Nath and Hannah grapple with their roles in the family, and how the pressure Lydia faced from their parents may have contributed to their sister’s death. For all that Lydia was the axis around which their family dynamic turned, everyone has failed to see something about her that other members of the family have grasped. This realization, and their quest to find what they could have missed in effort to make an incomprehensible tragedy understandable is at the core of this family history.

Despite being somewhat unique in their mid-West town as a mixed-race family in the 1970s, the Lees are essentially a normal family, hiding small, everyday secrets from one another, nothing really scandalous, that together would add up to an understanding of how Lydia could have died. Celeste Ng opens with the line “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” so while the Lees have a brief period of wondering what has happening to Lydia, dreaming the worst and hoping for the best, it is never, for the reader, about whether Lydia will be recovered or return home. As readers, we get see through the eyes of each member of the Lee family, and by combining their perspectives, see the larger picture that they are missing. Ng’s artistry is the way she slowly parcels out these revelations, layering them on top of one another until they form a coherent image of a girl struggling to bear the weight of conflicting expectations.

Like many parents, James and Marilyn vest their hopes in their children, wanting to give them all the things they never had. Though there are three children in the Lee family, it is Lydia who is asked to bear the weight of her mother’s unfulfilled dreams of becoming a doctor, and her father’s deep-seated desire to fit in, even as his race makes him conspicuous wherever he goes. But it is this hope that makes it all but impossible for them to understand why Lydia, who never learned how to swim, might have gone out onto the lake, seemingly alone, one spring night in 1977, and never returned. While Nath and Hannah know things about their sister that their parents have accidentally or willfully overlooked, their perspectives are complicated by conflicting emotions, pulled between love for their sister, and resentment of the way she seemed to magnetically draw their parents’ attention.

Everything I Never Told You perfectly captures a complicated truth about families; they are simultaneously the people we know best, and the people we know least, because we keep the most from them. Even as Marilyn realizes how little she knew her daughter in life, she futilely believes can uncover and understand everything she missed after Lydia is gone. It is a portrait of a family that is at once ordinary, and tragic, and a girl who is born to a life at the intersection of the struggles her parents tried desperately to leave behind. As Celeste Ng peels back the layers one at a time, her novel becomes an autopsy of a family in the aftermath of the death of one of its members.

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