I remember reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng with more than a little trepidation. I shy away from tragic stories because I absolutely hate turning into a sobbing mess. While that novel was definitely sad, it was well worth the effort because of the beautiful story it told. With that in mind, I decided to try this new novel by Celeste Ng to see what she would present next.
Shaker Heights is a progressive suburb in Cleveland, Ohio that is proud of its perfect community. From the layout of the houses to the successful lives of its residents, Shaker Heights is the epitome of perfection. And no one believes this more than Elena Richardson, whose entire way of life is all about playing by the rules. When Mia Warren, an artist and single mother, arrives in town with her teenage daughter, Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons, things quickly change. Pearl quickly becomes close to the 4 Richardson children, and the Richardson kids find themselves drawn to this mother-daughter pair. But Mia is not at all like the citizens of Shaker Heights; she has a penchant for disregarding the rules of the community, and has a mysterious past to boot. But things really come to a head when the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, putting Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing side. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at a devastating cost to her own family – and Mia’s.
The novel starts off unusually, with a fire that breaks out in the Richardsons’ home. It sets the stage for the real story to follow through. This was a slow-moving story that showcases different family dynamics and relationships. The characters are beautifully drawn up, and they are so present that it is hard to distance yourself from them. I love that the author spoke from every single character’s perspective, giving them their moment in the spotlight and allowing the reader to understand that specific character’s thought process and internal turmoil. The story chronicles the events that led to this fire by using each character’s back story to reveal their subsequent actions. And then there is the additional story line of the Chinese baby being adopted by an American family. Every single thing that occurred in this novel was designed to make the reader face some difficult questions about family and identity. And there is no straight answer, nothing that can ever truly be considered right. I think that was the beauty of this entire novel: it is thought-provoking and emotionally draining in the best way possible. My heart went out for so many of the characters. And even though I disliked Mrs. Richardson – who was rarely referred to by her first name (this actually worked so well with her personality and characterization) – I grew to feel for her by the end of the book, as well. If you haven’t picked up that I loved this novel, well, I loved it. I thought it was such a deep and intense story, and it is well worth the effort to read it. However, you really need to be in the mindset for this type of story in order to enjoy it. I’m giving it a 5/5 stars.