1970s small-town Ohio is a tough place to be a mixed race family. James Lee is Chinese-American, born in California of Chinese-born parents. Marilyn Lee is white, from Virginia, permanently estranged from her mother because she married James. Their three children, Nathan, Lydia, and Hannah, don't know much about the heritage and past of either parent, because James and Marilyn agreed on their wedding day to never talk about the past.
This isn't even helpful for them, much less their kids.
The book opens with a tragedy. Middle child Lydia, blue-eyed favorite of both her parents, is missing, and soon will be found at the bottom of a nearby lake.
In alternating sections, we follow the Lee family's reaction to Lydia's death, the meeting and romance of James and Marilyn, and Nathan and Lydia's different responses to, and for a long time, their solidarity in the face of the different pressures they face from their parents.
Youngest child Hannah is absently loved and largely ignored by everyone, and sees and hears a great deal more than anyone else. She's a careful and perceptive observer, even though too young to fully understand much of it at first.
This is not a novel that's about its events, as shocking and painful as some of them are. It's about the family members' reactions, about their characters and their relationships. Ng develops them with delicate but powerful language, with insight and understanding. As strong and deep as the love between James and Marilyn is, this has always been a family under stress, and this crisis will be either their destruction or their salvation.
This is just a marvelous book. Highly recommended.
I received the audiobook edition free from the Ford Audiobook Club.