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“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know it yet.” These are the opening lines of “Everything I Never Told You,” by Celeste Ng. The novel tells the story of a Chinese American family living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. The death of their middle daughter lays bare the struggle this mixed-race family faces at a time when few, if any, looked like them. Lydia had been the favorite – to her mother, she was the future doctor she, herself, never could be. To her father, she was the popular high school kid he never was. But as the mystery of her death unfolds, we learn that her parents didn’t really know her at all. Join Diane and her guests for our June Readers’ Review discussion of the secrets and silences of “Everything I Never Told You.”
- Lynn Neary NPR correspondent covering books and publishing.
- Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis Director of the Asian American Literary Review
- Patricia Chu Associate professor of English at The George Washington University and author of "Assimilating Asians: Gendered Strategies of Authorship in Asian America" and the forthcoming book "Where I Have Never Been: Asian American Narratives of Return"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The protagonists of Celeste Ng's novel, "Everything I Never Told You" meet at a time when interracial marriage is still illegal in some state. James is Chinese American. Marilyn is white. Over objections, they marry and raise their three children in small town Ohio. All seems well until their teenage daughter is found dead in a lake. The tragedy forces the family to confront the secrets and longings that have blinded them from the truth.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for this month's Reader's Review, Lynn Neary of NPR, Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis of the Asian American Literary Review and Patricia Chu of the George Washington University. I hope you will join us. Questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome to all of you.
MS. LYNN NEARYGreat to be here.
MS. PATRICIA CHUGreat to be here.
MR. LAWRENCE-MINH BUI DAVISGreat to be here.
REHMGood to see you all. I want to, at the outset, issue a spoiler's alert. If you have not read "Everything I Never Told You," and you want to read it, you may want to turn your radio off now because we are going to really talk about everything in this book. Patricia Chu, would you read for us, the beginning of the book.
CHUSure. "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. 1977, May 3rd, 6:30 in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact, Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia's physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia's father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio's best news source, vexed by the crackles of static.
CHUOn the stairs, Lydia's brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia's sister hunches, moon-eyed, over her corn flakes, sucking them to pieces one by one waiting for Lydia to appear. It's she who says, at last, Lydia's taking a long time today. Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter's door and sees the bed unslept in. Neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillows still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place.
CHUMustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rain-striped sock, a row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein, Lydia's duffle bag crumpled on the floor of the closet, Lydia's green book bag slouched against her desk, Lydia's bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet powdery loved baby scent still in the air, but no Lydia."
REHMNo Lydia. Lynn, how does this passage set up the whole book?
NEARYWell, it sets up the whole book -- first of all, it introduces all of the members of this family and gives you little hints about all of them, but mostly it gives you hints that turn out to be, in some level, false.
NEARYAbout Lydia. It sets up this room where this is a young girl who is devoted to science, wins science fairs, has Einstein postcards posted up. Her mother has physics problems set down at the table as if this is one of these young women who's just driven to succeed in science. And that proves to be perhaps the most misleading thing of them all.
REHMThe only thing that's not misleading is that Lydia is dead, but they don't know it yet. Lydia is, of course, the central character, Lawrence. What did you think of the structure starting out saying the major character in this book is dead?
DAVISWell, I think it breaks interestingly from a kind of coming of age novel where we might have gotten this young woman's story from her perspective and her development. Instead, we start off with her dead. But we also see her from the outside. It's importantly that this is a process of discovery in the way the novel's going to unfold structurally is not her telling us about herself, but her various family members and through their perspectives we come to understand little bits and pieces of her and how they misunderstand her throughout the course of her life.
REHMTell me a little about this family, Patricia. I mean, it sort of comes into being in a very strange way.
CHUYes. The father is Chinese American. He's a kind of unusual character because his father is a paper son. He's come in illegally on false papers and he's part of a community of Chinese who settle in California and then it's rather unusual that his parents settle in Iowa and then he gets into a prep school because they are on the staff. And then, it's, again, unusual that he, then, goes to Harvard and studies American history and studies the cowboy.
CHUAnd it's, again, unusual that he actually gets a professional job as professor in a Midwestern university. And then, he -- before that, he -- no, on his first lecture he meets...
CHU...Marilyn who is going to become his wife and, you know, it's quite a scene. When she sees him, she goes in among all these undergraduates who think they're going to see a charismatic white professor, lecturing about the American cowboy and watching Westerns. And they see this nervous young man who is Chinese American and they're all walking out of the lecture. And only she is intrigued by him and she goes to his office and she makes a pass at him.
REHMShe makes a pass at him. She kisses him.
CHUShe kissed him, which immediately gets me interested in both of these characters, right, because they're both breaking rules. And that’s how these two get together and that's how this family...
REHMSo you're saying...
CHU...comes to be.
REHM...that the students walk out because they're expecting this sort of real cowboyish kind of figure. And when they see a Chinese American, they're so disappointed that they walk out?
DAVISIt seems to be that way, yeah, that there's a -- we get this sense of racial expectations from numerous characters throughout the novel and so there's very much also James aware of that and hyper conscious of how people look at him, including Marilyn in that moment and later on and a desire for a kind of social acceptance that he's denied in that moment of teaching his first class.
REHMAnd yet, doesn't -- I mean, as we think about Chinese Americans today, I mean, the idea of having kids being mimicked, having professors being turned away from just sort of turns everything on its head.
NEARYWell, when you read the book, you have to remember the time period you're in.
NEARYAnd I had to remind myself of that.
NEARYAnd one of the things -- because it begins in the late 1950s, they meet in the late 1950s when it wasn't even legal to, you know, to be involved in a mixed relationship or a mixed marriage. And then, it goes up until the last '70s so it's post the Loving decision, the Supreme Court decision that then made intermarriage legal. So you're spanning that amount of time and think of all the things that happened in that time and it happens in this family, the women's movement.
NEARYBut one of the little clues I kept having was the first time they referred to the -- somebody was referred to as an oriental and I thought, why is she using that word? That's such an odd word to use. And it was only of the second or third time that I thought, oh, that's right. Back them, people called Asians, Orientals and I had to sort of -- there were these cues here and there that I had to remind myself of what period I was in 'cause I was still sort thinking with my, you know, 21st century mind, had to realize what -- things were very, very different back then.
REHMOf course, Marilyn's mother has great expectations for Marilyn and Marilyn has great expectations for herself, but she puts them aside immediately as she falls in love with this Chinese American.
CHUYes. And I think that Celeste Ng says very pointedly, she falls in love with him because she thinks he understands what it's like to be different. But he, without realizing it, falls in love with her because when he sees her in this large lecture hall, she completely blends in. He thinks she knows what it's like to be like everyone else and this is what happens in stories of mixed race marriages, that the Asian American person may be looking for a white partner who will -- I don't think it's so much a fetishization of, oh, this person is a beautiful unknown object, but maybe a white partner who will talk to me about the culture.
CHUWhat is it like to grow up in a (word?) family and the other way also.
REHMPatricia Chu is associate professor of English at George Washington University. Do join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMWelcome back for this month's readers' review. We're talking about Celeste Ng's novel, "Everything I Never Told You." It was a notable book in the New York Times Book Review, and I want to say again, I want to issue a spoiler alert because we really are going to talk about everything that happens in this book. I loved it. Did you love it, Lynn?
NEARYI did like it very much.
NEARYYou know, this is a very interesting book because it starts out, as I think we've indicated, as something of a mystery. It's a mystery. We know that Lydia has died. We don't know how she's died. We're going to find out gradually through the book, and we keep getting clues. So there's a mystery element to it. There's a sort of dysfunctional family story, which I think people love to read, also, just family stories, and when you add dysfunction.
NEARYBut then it gets more complex because it is a mixed-race marriage, and it starts examining what it means to be a mixed-race family at a time when that was very different in this country, and so that -- you know, that adds this layer of complexity. And then we have to point out the mother, Marilyn, had this ambition to be a doctor.
NEARYShe wanted to be a doctor, and this was in the late 1950s. She was at Radcliffe and taking classes at Harvard, that's how she met him, and, you know, this was a very hard thing for a woman to do at that time. It was very ambitious of her to pursue that at that time. And then she, because it was the 1950s, because the women's movement hadn't happened, she threw it all over and became a mother and a housewife and, you know, really regretted it.
NEARYHad deep regrets about that, and that's where you've got to talk a lot about that.
REHMAnd against her own mother's wishes, I mean not just wishes, I mean, she said to her on her wedding day, just before the wedding took place, you are making a big mistake.
DAVISThat's right, and I think this tension between expectations, between mothers and daughters, sets the stage for how we're supposed to -- how we're asked to understand Lydia's progression. I mean, to put it in a different frame, Lydia and the pressures that are on her as a young Asian-American woman, and I think we want to mention that Asian-American women, like, have the second-highest incidence of suicide in the U.S., or there's a statistic along those lines, suicidal ideation, and in some ways this book is an exploration of why is that. How do we understand that statistic?
DAVISAnd much of it is thinking about the pressures that are upon them to succeed as a so-called model minority. And when we see Marilyn striving to become a doctor, that importantly changes it because it's not an immigrant striving to fit in as much as her white mother, who was denied opportunities to become a doctor kind of vicariously projecting that upon to her daughter.
REHMOn to Lydia, one thing we haven't mentioned, Lydia has jet black and piercing blue eyes, which is, to say the least, unusual. And therefore, she is singled out by her classmates, but she is not a popular young woman.
CHUYeah, by the way, that description reminds me of Elizabeth Taylor, but of course Elizabeth Taylor was not mixed-race. So I think in thinking about that, we might want to think about the fact that mixed-race marriages are not made legal, declared constitutional, until 1967 and that so the mixed-race couples are not that -- are not that familiar in Ohio, where she's growing up. And so it would be possibly worse to be a mixed-race girl than to be completely Chinese or completely white because you wouldn't -- though white people, some white people wouldn't date her because she is not white, and some Chinese, if she were in a Chinatown community, wouldn't date her because she was not Chinese.
CHUSo she gets the double whammy, and likewise, she gets the double whammy from her parents. Her mother wants her to be a scientist, and her father wants her to be a popular girl and blend in, do what he didn't do. And the poignant thing about this girl is that she has all these diaries, because part of being -- part of being a female intellectual in her mother's mind is that you write about your consciousness.
REHMHer mother has given her all these diaries.
CHUYes, and it's one of the early surprises that she -- oh, I'm going to read my daughter's diary and find out what she was thinking. The diaries are blank, and those blank diaries are in contradistinction to the piles and piles of books that represent all the social expectations that this family is dealing with. James is a historian. The mother is sending her all these science books. She's picked up and misinterpreted the meaning of this cookbook. And the father eventually gives her another conduct book, which is the Dale Carnegie "How to Make Friends and Influence People."
CHUWhich pretty much does her in.
REHMLynn Neary, read for us, starting there at the bottom of the page, about the books.
NEARYOkay. "She flipped through the other chapters, looking for more pencil lines. In pies, she found another. If you care about pleasing a man, bake a pie, but make sure it's a perfect pie. Pity the man who has never come home to a pumpkin or custard pie. Under basic eggs, the man you marry will know the way he likes his eggs, and chances are he'll be fussy about them, so it behooves a good wife to know how to make an egg behave in six basic ways. She imagined her mother touching the pencil tip to her tongue, then drawing a careful dark mark down the margin so that she would remember."
REHMThis cookbook is so important. Why is this cookbook so important, Lynn?
NEARYWell, Marilyn's mother is a home economics teacher to begin with, and this is a Betty Crocker cookbook, and I am of a certain age, so I remember those Betty Crocker cookbooks.
REHMOh, I do, too.
NEARYThey were red and white plaid cookbooks.
NEARYAnd I think they were a bit ubiquitous at a certain time in kitchens, and her mother has instilled in her, in Marilyn, the domestic sciences. This is what she wants her daughter to excel at. She wants her daughter to go to Radcliffe and meet a Harvard man and get married and be a good wife and be a great housewife and cook and do all of this.
REHMAnd Betty Crocker is going to teach her how to do all that. Lawrence, talk about the title. Who are the I and the you in "Everything I Never Told You"?
DAVISWell, once, the you is us, the reader, discovering along with the various characters what they don't know about Lydia or what they know that's limited or incorrect. In some portions of the book, we want to think the you is James and Marilyn, and it's their process of discovery we're most invested in, the parents who have come to understand how they don't understand their daughter. But I'm personally tempted to think about it in terms of her brother and a kind of horizontal, rather than a vertical, relationship, and her brother's understanding.
DAVISAnd we close with her brother, another spoiler alert, at the end of the book going into the water in the same place where she has drowned and him coming to this understanding of his sister, in some sense through his sister, his own precarious position as a young, mixed-race Chinese-American trying to make his way in America.
REHMI cringed when I read that their classmates would go around sort of pulling their eyes and mimicking how they looked. And it really took me aback, as it did you, Lynn, thinking about how did people behave back then.
NEARYRight. You know, there was a terrible joke back then that involved, you know, pulling your eyes in one direction or another, and I remember that as a child. I remember that joke. It reminded me of that joke, which I don't feel like repeating right now, but I remember those kinds of gestures. And -- but it wasn't -- on the other hand, I think -- I actually think, when I think about it now, I think we were less likely to run into Asian people than anybody else, at least where I lived. I lived on the East Coast. I lived in the New York area. And there was the Chinatown, but there wasn't a lot of mixing going on. You're absolutely right. There was the Chinatown.
NEARYThere wasn't -- you really have to put your head back there when you read this book. That was the thing that really hit me.
NEARYYou really have to -- you really have to say -- because I think we go into it with a 21st-century mind, and we're living in an urban place where I think there are a lot of mixed marriages, a lot of children of mixed race, and we -- I have a tendency to think of it as a good thing, this is a good thing. So you have to remember that back then maybe people didn't even know it, much less think what it was.
DAVISI mean, I want to say that this is a period book, and I want to agree with that assessment, but I also want to say that I want to be careful not to distance it to the past and suggest that this kind of discrimination is absent now even in urban spaces and that we've gotten to this better place where interracial marriages and mixed-race kids and Chinese-Americans no longer confront this kind of discrimination because I think for many Asian-American readers, there's an immediate pang and a sense in which this is a period piece, but these are also perennial issues and that young people today in many ways, this is a book of 2015 and not a book of the 1950s and 1970s.
NEARYWell, I have a question, something that interested me. One of the last books I read before I read this one was "Loving Day" by Matt Johnson, which is a book about being mixed-race, about -- the author is mixed-race. He looks very white, but he, he thinks of himself as black. And it's kind of -- it's kind of a -- it's an interesting sort of satirical look at it, but it occurred to me as I was reading it, and then I read this book, that I wondered if in literature now there's a movement to look more seriously -- I know that we've talked about mixed race in literature a lot in the past, there have been mixed-race characters, but is there a more serious movement towards looking at what it means to be mixed-race in this country in literature now. I don't know the answer to that question. I wonder if either of you do.
CHUYes, I'd say yes.
DAVISI mean, I think since, you know, "Loving Day" is a huge landmark, but also the census changes in the '90s and 2000, where you can check multiple boxes, and people became identified -- became able to identify as mixed-race, there's been an explosion in popular culture of thinking about mixed-race identity, and that extends to literature.
REHMAll right, I want to talk about the three children in this family, Nathan, the eldest, a very bright young man, Lydia, the protagonist, who we know has died but figures throughout the book, and Hannah, the youngest child, who seems to watch from afar and takes it all in. Talk about the relationship among these three children, Patricia.
CHUWell, Nathan and Lydia are very -- Nathan and Lydia are very close allies. They keep each other's secrets. They know each other's secrets. And when Lydia vanishes, Nathan realizes that he has a secret that he now can't tell, which is the secret of Lydia's friendship with Jack. And this is another one of those red herrings that is thrown before us because there is a kind of friendship triangle or romantic triangle going on among these three that nobody quite understands.
REHMAnd Jack, of course, is the young neighbor boy whose mother is gone all day, the house apparently not very well-kept. Jack is something of a mystery, and we find out toward the end that though Lydia aspires to have a physical relationship with Jack, Jack is actually gay and loves Nathan, but we don't find that out until the end. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
REHMI do hope those of you who have read the book will call us, 800-433-8850. Here's a comment from Carol on Facebook. She said, I loved this book. It was my favorite of 2014. The language was beautiful. The loneliness and inability to connect was easy to understand. My heart ached for the characters in this book (unintelligible) that I can identify with in my life. Something that really struck me, Marilyn at one point, when Lydia is quite young, decides she is going to complete her medical education. She disappears. She leaves the family behind. And Lydia is blaming herself for her mother's disappearance. Where does she go?
DAVISWell, one of the things that comes out of that moment is the children are left alone with a caretaker who falls asleep, and Nathan and Lydia go to the lake, years before Lydia will eventually go to the lake and die, and this time when they go to the lake, kind of suffused with emotion about their mother being gone and trying to make sense of it and dealing with their kind -- Nathan has kind of simmering resentments towards his sister because of how their parents treat them differently and have different expectations for them, shoves her into the water in a kind of precursor of what's going to happen and importantly shapes how we understand it later.
DAVISThe book forces us to think about her ultimate going into the water in relationship to this earlier moment of being pushed into the water.
REHMHe pulls her out eventually.
REHMAnd she's spitting water. We should say she doesn't know how to swim. I found that curious, living near a lake and not knowing how to swim. What do you make of that?
NEARYI think she was just afraid.
REHMAfraid of the water.
NEARYI got the impression that she was just afraid of the water, and her brother is a very good swimmer. Her -- their father fantasizes he would actually become, you know, a member of a swim team and become very successful that way. One thing I want to say that I think is interesting, but I love the way she played with the stereotypes of people in general, you know, because for instance Marilyn is sort of the tiger mom who we now have the stereotype of the Asian tiger mom.
NEARYWell, this white American mother becomes the tiger mom. The Asian-American daughter, who we always think of is they're good at science, good in math, in fact poor Lydia doesn't like science or math.
REHMYes, she doesn't.
NEARYBut she's trying to please her mother. The father wants the son to be on a swim team. The son is actually the best student. It's just she really does play with all of those.
REHMAnd part of the reason that Lydia wants to please her mother so is because she thinks it was her fault that her mother left, and she promises she'll do everything she can to hold on to her mother. All right, we're going to take a short break here. Many of you have left comments. I hope you'll join our conversation, 800-433-8850.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about a book titled, "Everything I Never Told You," by Celeste Ng. And here in the studio, Lynn Neary of NPR, Patricia Chu, she's at George Washington University and author of "Assimilating Asians: Gendered Strategies of Authorship in Asian America." Lawrence-Minh Bui Davis is Director of the Asian American Literary Review. And Lawrence, I gather you are of mixed race heritage. Tell us about your own growing up.
DAVISI do identify as mixed. My mother immigrated from Vietnam early in 1966. And my dad is white. And so, yeah, I do identify as mixed.
REHMAnd what was your growing up like? Can you, in any way, identify with some of the stresses, the pulls, the pushes in this book?
DAVISYeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think there's some kinds of familiar icons of mixed experience, in terms of how you're looked at and the kind of desires of classification and some of the push pull. But I think, also, it's important that it doesn't fall into some of the larger traps or tropes of what it means to be mixed, of the mixed body as able to solve racism. Or, on the other hand, the mixed figure as always tragic and doomed and never able to figure out these kind of warring cultures within themselves.
DAVISThat the book refuses that and I think I identified with that, its commitment to a kind of complexity and not reducing things to her mixedness as the kind of explanation for exactly why everything goes the way it goes.
REHMWere -- did you experience any of that feeling of being different or being lonely or being set apart as a young person?
DAVISYeah, absolutely. I think many people who identify as mixed experience that in the different communities in which they move. You know, different forms of alienation and isolation and loneliness at different times, but also really powerful moments of identification too in different, multiple directions.
REHMYou know, it was fascinating to me that Lydia pretended to be talking to friends on the phone. She pretended to have engagements with lots of friends. I mean, her father thought she was a very, very popular young girl. How did she maintain that fiction, Patricia?
CHUWell, she'd be on the phone and she wouldn't be talking to anyone. She'd be -- give her friends her assignments and then she'd just sit there and pretend she'd be talking. It's part of her desire to be the perfect girl, because she's afraid her mother will vanish. Which I think should resonate for people, both for people who have one parent or who have experienced having one parent and fearing the loss of that parent. And for the students who feel this pressure, I mean, it is written that Asian American daughters feel a pressure to be perfect.
CHUAnd I think that is part of the pressure that she's experienced. But that's certainly not limited to Asian Americans.
REHMAll right, let's open the phones. We'll go first to Ruth in Alexandria, Virginia. You're on the air.
RUTHThank you, Diane. I am Asian. I'm a Filipina. I married my African American husband way back in 1961 and we're still happily married. Was our marriage illegal, since mixed marriages were not approved, until 1967?
REHMI don't think we've got any lawyers here in the room, but...
CHUThere were miscegenation laws in 38 states at one time, so in 1967, that's when the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Loving vs. Virginia. The Lovings had a legal marriage in Washington, D.C., but not in Virginia. So, it really depended on the state.
RUTHYeah, well, my husband, at the time, had been drafted within the Army, and so the actual nuptials took place on a military base. Very complicated, huh?
REHMYeah. Interesting. So, on a military base in what state?
REHMSo, that puts it in a whole other realm, doesn't it?
RUTHWe have bi-racial, bicultural, multicultural children and I think they're beautiful.
REHMWell, of course they are. As are every single one of our children. Thank you so much for lending that perspective, Ruth. And for calling in today. As the story progresses, we find Marilyn putting more and more and more pressure on her daughter, Lydia. While Lydia, I thought this was horrible, Lydia sees a letter from Harvard University for Nathan and it is his acceptance into Harvard University. And Lydia, because she cannot lose him, she fears losing him, what does she do with the letter, Lawrence?
DAVISIn something that will end up being important for the rest of the book, she keeps it from him. And this is the kind of betrayal that pushes him to distance himself from her and kind of leads to her ultimate feeling of total loss and isolation because her brother is sort of her one ally. And he feels it's a betrayal and can't understand why she would do that to him. And as you mentioned, it kind of comes out very much tied to the pressure from her mother, that her mother's applying, and it's asking us to see the exclusions that she's faced as a white woman.
DAVISAnd how that kind of external pressure is internalized and appears a generation later and manifests in these struggles between siblings.
REHMBut guess what, the parents, while they acknowledge, oh great, you got into Harvard, they turn immediately back to Lydia.
CHUSo, I can't remember that exact scene, but I remember it was infuriating, because it's the one moment when Nathan should be in the limelight, and he's denied the limelight again, and this is why these two are drifting apart. And then, Lydia will do this again. She will hide more mail from Harvard.
NEARYIt's also a little indication of her unraveling.
NEARYShe's starting to unravel and gets her unraveling goes on from there, but the fact that she would take such a desperate -- it is a desperate measure on her part and it's kind of mean, also. She deliberately...
NEARY...she deliberately steals the limelight from him at the moment when he gets that letter, and he never gets the parents' attention. The parents really are not very good parents, as...
REHMThey are not very good parents. Let's go to Julian in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.
JULIANOh, thank you for taking my call.
JULIANI just wanted to comment on how Lydia would pretend to have those conversations with friends that weren't on the other end of the phone. My brother and I -- he was probably about, maybe 10, and I was in the seventh grade, when our father just up and disappeared one day. And you know, we did live with our mother and everything, and, you know, there was this whole big search going on for him for about a year. And he did come back, but during that year, my brother and I developed this game where we would talk on the phone to friends who weren't calling us.
JULIANYou know, there's no one on the other end of the line. And it's actually something that we found sort of fun and therapeutic, but it's something that I've continued doing to adulthood in an uncomfortable social situation or if I'm out walking my dog and it feels particularly empty. Like, there's nobody else outside. I will pick up my phone, hold it to my ear and continue talking to absolutely no one. And I'm not a particularly lonely person. I have, you know, a fairly large group of people that I do talk to, but it's still something that I actually get a lot of enjoyment and very calm feelings from.
JULIANSo, I think that's -- that's fascinating to see that in her story and to see it reflected. So, thank you for bringing that up.
REHMWell, I hope that you have a chance to read this book, because I do think it will resonate with you. If it gives you calm and make you feel at peace, certainly something to be done. Pardon me. Let's go now to Melinda in East Lansing, Michigan. You're on the air.
MELINDAYes. I'd like to echo the sentiment that -- I haven't read the book yet, but some of the points you've brought up does resonate with me. For example, the joking part of the -- my contemporaries, I was in junior high at the time, and I think there was a tendency to lump Asians all together and some of the boys in my class thought I was Japanese and they would do a mimic, like Judo and karate motions. And the eye thing, squinting the eyes. So it was very, to me, it was very annoying, because I wanted to stand out as a Filipino American.
MELINDAActually, I was born in New York, but I'd lived in the Philippines, and then my parents came back in '71. And so, I identify with that along with...
REHMPatricia, did you have any of that experience?
CHUAny of those experiences, with the eyes and so on?
CHUI remember one time, I was introduced to some little kids from Israel, who pulled their eyelids back, because it was so novel to meet a Chinese person. So, since they were kids, I looked at them and I pulled my eyelids open, like pretending I was a round eyed person. Everybody started laughing, so, that was one of the most...
REHMWhat a great reaction. What a great reaction.
CHUThat was not one of the most hurtful events, but one that I was able to connect with these kids by showing them that, you know, you're new to me, too.
REHMYou know, the fact that Lydia hid that original letter of acceptance to Harvard from Nathan as you said, Lawrence, began to turn everything around. But then, he does receive that fat packet telling him about his dorm, where he's gonna live, and he does get it. At which point, Lydia really does fall apart.
NEARYYeah. And it's interesting, you know, I was thinking as we have been talking that, you know, one of the things that happens in this book is that there are sort of layers of social change going on with the mother, with mixed race, but there's also what's going on with teenagers at that time. And Lydia sort of starts bonding with Jack and they go driving around in this car.
NEARYAnd we, at first, think that it's the sexual revolution. We think something sexual has happened between the two of them.
NEARYAnd it turns out that too has been a red herring, as you said.
NEARYBut, but as she is forming this friendship with Jack, she's just deteriorating more and more and more, trying to keep up the front with the mother, but that's beginning to just fall apart, because she can't really keep it up. And she's -- the idea that her brother is leaving just sends her right over the edge.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Let's go now to Sheena in Tulsa, Oklahoma. You're on the air.
SHEENAHi Diane. Thank you for having me on.
SHEENAI just wanted to make the comment that my dad -- I'm from India, and grew up India. And my dad studied American literature. And he specializes in modern American drama and his PhD was on the plays of Tennessee Williams. And so all this in India, and then he got an opportunity to go to Taiwan and we're Christian. So, my dad's name is Jacob George. And they expected some Westerner to show up, but when they looked at him, they were just surprised. And all his students over there in Taiwan, everybody was surprised when they looked at him first.
SHEENABut he was very soft spoken and everybody got along really well with him and so eventually they were all very accepting of him. And he lived there for 13 years.
REHMInteresting. So, what happens in fiction, indeed, can happen in real life, and often does. Let's talk about how Lydia dies. Do you think it was suicide, Lynn Neary?
NEARYI don't think it was. I think she goes out to the lake. She gets on this boat. I think that, as I have said before, she was unraveling, she was going over the edge. She was not in good shape. So, it looks...
REHMShe still didn't know how to swim.
NEARY...she didn't know how to swim, but she got this idea in her head that if she could swim, it would somehow be a new day for her and she could start all over. And all of her ideas at that time were very positive. She was going to say to Jack, it's okay for you to go to Harvard. She was going to be honest with her parents.
REHMYou mean Nathan. Yeah.
NEARYI mean Nathan, her brother. She was going to say to her brother, it's okay. She was going to apologize for something she had -- an argument she had had with Jack. She was going to set everything right. But somehow, she had in her head that if she just jumped in the water and could just kick, she would be able to get to shore and it would prove something. So, I don't really think she meant to commit suicide.
REHMWhat do you think, Lawrence?
DAVISI think -- I tend to disagree. I think that she was having these thoughts. I mean, I'm looking at the passage and she says, what (unintelligible) for is she'll begin again. She'll tell her mother enough. She'll take down the posters and put away the books. And at first, it seems hopeful, but to me, it becomes a list of impossibility. A life that she wants to imagine for herself that I think, in that next moment that we don't see, she realizes is incommensurable and that can't be made to happen. And there's a kind of hopelessness there that's echoed in what we have in everything leading up to that point in the book.
REHMPatricia. What do you think?
CHUWell, I'm really with Lynn. I think it's an accidental suicide, but in order to do that, you have to do a little mind trick and say, but how could she be so dumb? And then, you have to say, you know, enter into that next level of why is she denying reality? But I do still think, fundamentally, overall, it's not intended as a suicide.
REHMAll right. And I'm going to tie the score, because I tend to agree with Lawrence. I think she does commit suicide. Thank you all so much. The book we've been talking about, "Everything I Never Told You," and it's just a wonderful book by Celeste Ng. For our next "Readers' Review," a novel about a young Irish girl sent from New York City to Minnesota right before the Great Depression. The book is titled, "Orphan Train" by Christina Baker Klein.
REHMLynn Neary, Lawrence-Min Bui Davis, Patricia Chu, thank you all so much.
NEARYYou're welcome. It was great to be here.
CHUThank you very much.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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