I remember reading Ng’s first novel a few years ago when I heard or read a review about it on NPR. I decided to give it a try, and I remember really enjoying it. Although, I can’t remember any details about it. Either way, it made me want to read her next book. I ended up buying it at a bookstore because it was a signed edition. Then I had it and read a bit of it to some friends simply as a way to put them to sleep (I can’t help but laugh as I write that).
I hadn’t planned on reading this in November (this was late October), but the small bit I read was too good to pass up. I couldn’t resist reading this one sooner rather than later. If this is as good throughout, I’ll likely reread her first novel. Rereading feels like a waste of time because I have this absurd desire to read as many new books as possible, but I recognize that is a dumb reason not to read something I like! I talk about my thoughts on this in my October reading update.
I had maybe 10 minutes left on this prepared to give this a 4.75, maybe even a 5 star; I hadn’t decided. Then Ng did something I really wasn’t expecting which was top this emotionally fraught story with a poignant and emotional ending. This is especially impressive considering she opens with the end of the story at the start of the book: the house of a wealthy family up in flames. I won’t be spoiling the story, but it is worth noting there are plenty of surprises speckled throughout the book, even the ending. However, it was the connection with the characters that made me fall in love with this story. It is much like If We Were Villains and even Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne that each hooked me with fascinating and polarizing characters.
Earlier this year, I think I would have said science fiction and/or fantasy were my favorite type of stories, but I am beginning to learn my true passion is for emotionally rich stories with real characters that I can love or hate so long as I feel something. Make me care! That is what I want, and that is what Ng does so well. Throughout the entire novel I was enthralled by what our characters were going through. I was desperate to know what choices they’d make and the ways they’d find to cope with the struggles of life. Specifically, we are dealing with issues of race and class, but it isn’t just about those who fall victim to it because Ng offers us real characters as well. Even our antagonists are well meaning if fundamentally flawed. Ng uses the story to articulate the chaos of life and how people do their very best to get by, and because we care about the characters, we are desperate to follow them on this journey even after the story ends. Life doesn’t just end happily ever after. There is always more to the story, and what we get here is only a chapter in the lives of these characters.
Needless to say, this is a solid 5 stars. That said, I am beginning to worry that I am being too many high ratings. Part of me wonders if I would rate them differently if I came back a few months later, so maybe this will change. For now, I am fresh off the high that I got from this book. If that isn’t worthy of a 5 star, I don’t know what is!