Took a vacation day yesterday and two four hour plane rides during my long weekend so I got Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Educated by Tara Westover, and The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith.

I loved Everything I Never Told You, it reminded me of Little Fires Everywhere — they are very different stories, but Ng’s writing is wonderful. Everything I Never Told You is the story of a mixed race family in the 1960’s and 1970’s — not the easiest time to not be a white person in America.  In this case, the mom is a woman who is raised to be a wife and mother and desperately wants to be a doctor, but ends up being mom to three kids. The dad is a Chinese-American (born in America, but to Chinese born parents in the 1940’s and so doomed to spend his life proving that he’s American, that he’s “from here”) who worked incredibly hard to get into Harvard and loves teaching American History, but can’t get a job teaching anywhere but a mediocre college in Ohio.

Ng seems to really enjoy starting with a moment, and then working backwards to tell the reader, here’s how got here. So I don’t think I’m ruining anything to tell you that this book opens with the sentence “Lydia is dead.” In Little Fires Everywhere, Ng doesn’t tell you what happens next, but Everything I Never Told You goes in both directions, telling you both how Lydia (the middle child, and older daughter) ended up dead, and how her family copes with the aftermath of her death.

Despite knowing that Lydia dies, the book still manages to surprise you. Also, some of the complicated dynamics between these parents and their three children do actually get recognized and discussed between the characters. Despite the sadness, this is a fairly hopeful book.

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated made me feel less hopeful. She was raised by “Mormon” survivalists in Idaho, “homeschooled,” and severely abused and neglected, and managed to get into college, get a PhD at Cambridge, a Harvard fellowship, etc. I say “Mormon” because her parents go to church, but believe a lot of additional things that the Mormon church does not (the government is out to get you, doctors are evil socialists, etc.). And I say “homeschooled” because her parents don’t really bother to teach her anything beyond how to read and do basic math.

I found this book interesting, Westover has a great narrative style. Her book isn’t exactly hopeful though because while Westover left and is now okay with the fact that some of her family (including her parents) aren’t in her life any more. Unlike Everything I Never Told You, because this is non-fiction, there isn’t a catharsis. There is a chasm between what Westover believes (she becomes more okay with getting vaccines,  going to the doctor, believing women can work outside the home) and what her parents believe (God speaks to her mother through her fingers?) and it’s not going to close any time soon.

Currently reading: The Ten Year Nap, heading to pick up Exit West from the library