Everything I Never Told You – Discussion Questions

The Role of Women/Mothers

My mom had one that looked just like this.  I still own it evokes fond memories of her.#I'mnotmarilyn

My mom had one that looked just like this. I still own it evokes fond memories of her.#I’mnotmarilyn

Marilyn has become the polar opposite of what she intended to become.  Her goal in attending college was to become a physician and yet almost immediately she falls into a relationship with James.  How much of this was self-fulfillment?  She does spend a great deal of time looking back and regretting her decision, or does she?  Do you think that she is able to reflect upon where she ended up (as a stay-at-home mother) and realize that she is responsible?  She does try to find a job on campus but never follows up until years later. Why?

Marilyn does converse with James about her desire to be more than a mom. What motivates James to encourage and support Marilyn to stay home?

The Betty Crocker Cookbook becomes a touchstone of sorts for many of the characters – Marilyn and her mother, Lydia and Marilyn, and last but not least Hannah.  What is the author trying to convey?

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the novel for me was when Marilyn finally finds the cookbook in Lydia’s room. Is there a moment in the novel that deeply affected you?

Everything I Never Told You – Discussion Questions Part 3 (Spoiler Alert)

July/August 2015

July/August 2015

Grief

The entire Lee family is dealing with the loss of Lydia, but like most families they are handling it in varying ways.  Not only are they dealing with the death of Lydia they are all also still, years later, reeling from the summer that Marilyn took off.  James and the kids have been on their best behavior for years trying their best to ensure that Marilyn is happy, but life cannot survive in an environment where relationships are like the thin and fragile shells of robin’s eggs.

How much of what happened stemmed from the fear of Marilyn leaving?  Do you think that had she not taken off that the family might have seen the town for what it was? Would the events that followed have been prevented?

James, Marilyn and Nath are able to share their grief via the pages of the book, but Hannah never seems to have been able to share her grief with anyone.  She sees the family grappling with the loss and their inability to deal with it communicate within the family, but they don’t see her.  Why?

Everything I Never Told You – Discussion Questions Part 2 (Spoiler Alert)

July/August 2015

July/August 2015

The story deals with prejudice in the 1960’s all the way up to 1977.  According to Celeste Ng, “at the time, of course, interracial marriages were both rare and stigmatized.  Now, it’s getting to be much more common… but at the time, it would’ve been a much bigger deal.”

Each of the characters experienced discrimination of one sort or another, even Jack who had he come out of the closet would have dealt with prejudice and the ramifications of “being different” in a very homogeneous community.  While they did all face it they each chose to deal with it in different ways.  Who do you feel was able to adapt the best/least?  Could James and Marilyn have made decisions that would have made their lives and the kids lives easier?  After finding out that Lydia had died James thinks back on why he bought the house by the lake and wondered if he had chosen differently Lydia might not have died, were there decisions that were made earlier that made events inevitable?  Where they inevitable?

Celeste Ng is the child of two parents of Chinese decent.  Growing up in the ’90s she says “virtually all of the overtly racist things, large and small, in the book are things that either my family experienced of other Asian families that i knew experienced.  Sadly, I didn’t really have to do much research on that at all.”  Do you think it’s significant that Ng chose to set the book 20 years before she experienced racism as a teen, and wrote the novel 20 years (or so) after her teenage years? If so why?

I heard one comment that a reader thought that this novel felt more like a veiled memoir to her.  She truly thought that, perhaps, this was just Ng telling her own story (albeit dramatized – she did not lose a family member to drowning.)  What do you think?

Everything I Never Told You – Discussion Questions (spoiler alert)

July/August 2015

July/August 2015

Let’s begin at the beginning.

As the book begins we are aware that “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .”

The novel begins by telling this.  Did revealing this information right away influence the way you read the novel?  

Some have said that they expected the novel to be more of a mystery. The novel is many things but I wouldn’t consider it a mystery.   Was this what you expected?  Were you disappointed?

It is revealed at the end of the book what actually did happen to Lydia but I won’t reveal that right now because I fear that many have not reached that point yet.  I will revisit this later on but I’d like you to ponder these questions. As you delve into the story do you find it important to actually find out what happened to her?  If it is revealed to her family do you think it would allay or worsen their grief?

 

 

More to come!  If you haven’t picked up a book yet give us a call and we can put it on reserve for you.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Celest NgCeleste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You  (Penguin Press), which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book, and Amazon’s #1 Best Book of the Year 2014. She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.  Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (source:http://www.celesteng.com/about/)

Our July/August 2015 Book

everything i never told youI’ve been wanting to discuss from the first page of this book.  I’m delighted to introduce “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. (from the dust jacket)

Stop in at the Circulation desk, or download a copy today and get in on the fun.

Invisible City Discussion Questions – The End

May/June 2015

May/June 2015

All of us have survived the scene in the garage between Miriam including Rebekah – all that is except Miriam.

The novel neatly wraps up the murder of Rivka, but leaves us wondering about Rebekah and her relationships with Tony, her father, and the possibility of finally reuniting with her mother.

What did you think of the story?  Were there issues that you had with either the writing, the story, the depiction of Hasids?  Come on now I know you have opinions!

There is a second book out now, Run You Down, that deals with another murder. This time the story is set in the ultra-Orthodox Upstate town of Roseville, N.Y. (could it be based upon the town of Kiryas Joel?)

Would you be interested in following Rebekah’s story?

I’ll introduce our next novel next time.4th of July

Have a happy 4th.

 

Invisible City – Discussion Questions – Part 4 (Spoiler Alert)

Onto the murder.

May/June 2015

May/June 2015

If you’ve finished the book (and I hope that you have by now because I’m going to ruin it if you haven’t) we must talk about the murder(s).

After Saul is arrested Malka and Sara take the notes about Shoshanna and Rivka’s murders to Rebekah.  There had been talk earlier in the book about the death of Rivka’s daughter but up until now it was just blown off as accidental.  Given the brutal death of Rivka were you surprised that the two deaths were connected?

Before Malka hands over the evidence it is important to her to explain why her community is so protective and insular when it comes to policing (it is not the first time that Dahl has a character convey this).

We know that to survive we must rely on one another, we must support and protect our fellow Jews.  We do not do this because we do not believe that sin should be punished.  We do this because the strength of the community is vital to our survival. (page 249)

Malka wants Rebekah to understand – do you? If one does come from such a community can an outsider truly learn about the deep-rooted fears from being told?

Do you think that, given the nature of the crimes, Shomrim should have investigated murderfurther?  Were they protecting the community?  Do you think that there connection with the Mendolssohns clouded their judgement?  Do you think that they suspected Miriam’s responsibility, or do you think that they were covering for Aron?

While Aron was not primarily responsible for the death of his daughter or his wife he did suspect how dangerous Miriam was.  While he may have to live with his culpability, what if anything do you think his punishment should be?

When Malka brings the information she says,” I do not wish to invite scrutiny by people who do not respect our way of life, but the secrets have to stop.  The community can heal, but individual people, boys and girls, they cannot.”

Can a community heal when wounds like murder, infanticide, etc. are hidden?  Do you think any community can truly police itself? Can a police force that doesn’t understand the inner workings of such a community fairly oversee them?

Invisible City – Discussion Questions Part 3 (Spoiler Alert)

failedDrat and double drat.

I have failed technology and technology has failed me.  I was in the middle (and oh so close to the end) of a blog post and didn’t hit “save draft” and it didn’t auto-save, so here I go again.

Rebekah has come a long way from Florida to become a reporter.  She insists that her need to begin her career in the toughest place to find a job doing that has nothing to do with her mother.

While she tries to convince herself how much of this do you buy?

Not only is she conflicted about her reasoning for heading to NY, but she manages to come in contact with many who, like her mother, have questioned Hasidic tenants and practices.

In a community that requires strict adherence to traditional beliefs Rebekah manages to find herself surrounded by those who are questioning.  How easy do you think it would actually be to, as an outsider, quickly connect with such individuals.  Did Rebekah’s story ring true?