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Friday, March 25, 2016

The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: March 2016

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

I read two books this month, both of them are for my upcoming book discussion group meetings on April 17, May 1, and May 15 (I still have to read the May 15 book, which is called Partitions, but I will read that in a few weeks after I work on my book some more). I reviewed the book we will be discussing on April 17 here. Today I will be reviewing the book for the May 1 discussion, Everything I Never Told You.

Everything I Never Told You was a very fast read. It took me only four days to read and it was a very fascinating book. The book starts on May 3, 1977 when the Lees' beloved daughter, Lydia, never comes down for breakfast. Hannah, Lydia's younger sister, raises the problem of Lydia never coming down for breakfast and Nath, Lydia's older brother, concurs. Marilyn, Lydia's mother, goes to check on Lydia in her bedroom and realizes she is gone. Marilyn calls James, her husband, and the Lees contact the police to search for Lydia. She is discovered dead a few days later.

I won't give spoilers because I think everyone should read this book. Everything I Never Told you goes between the past - when Marilyn and James first meet, when Lydia was still alive, what led to her death, and how each of their lives were dependent on Lydia. James is a Chinese American, Marilyn is a Southern woman. When they married in 1957 when Marilyn was pregnant, their marriage was taboo. Marilyn's mother didn't approve of it and told Marilyn at the wedding: "think of your children! They will never be welcomed!"

The wedding is the last time Marilyn sees her mother. Marilyn was going to school to be a doctor, which was unheard of for women in her time, and she was always an outcast - the only woman in her science and math classes, but she couldn't finish when she had Nath. James's parents were Chinese immigrants and they worked for a private school. James was intelligent and passed the test for free education, but he never fit in. He felt ashamed of his identity and that his mother worked. He disallows Marilyn to work because he wants to fit in. Marilyn desperately wants to work.

Then her mother died when Lydia was five. She drove down South because the Lees lived in Ohio. While Marilyn was cleaning out her mother's house to sell it, she finds her cookbook. Marilyn's mom was a divorcee (well, her husband walked out on them) and taught home ec to grade school students. The cookbook is typical 50s and 60s - with writings scrawled "the only way to a man's heart is through his stomach" and other typical phrases women had ingrained in their heads about keeping a man and children happy. Marilyn resents it, but takes the cookbook anyway to remind her of how she will not continue living her life.

Marilyn then enrolls into a community college to finish her degree. She never tells her family what she is doing and goes off to Toledo without a word. James, Nath, and Lydia are in a tizzy for two months. In that time Lydia discovers the cookbook and hides it because she realizes it brings her mom sadness and that is why she is missing. Marilyn then finds out she's pregnant and comes home. Lydia associates her "losing" the book as what brings her mother home and vows to do everything her mother wishes so she won't be lost again.

That works all fine and dandy until Lydia struggles with science and doesn't want to become a doctor. However, we see her story and the siblings stories, and Jack's story. Jack is Nath's enemy, but Lydia hangs out with him. Nath suspects Jack killed Lydia, and Marilyn is envious of Jack's mother because she's a doctor. Because the stories are intertwined and all is based on Lydia, the family falls apart after she dies.

It was an amazing book and I would totally recommend it!


  1. Sounds riveting, especially given how quickly you finished it. The multiracial experience is and will be an important topic for the next generation of writers.

    1. I was shocked with how quickly I finished it!

      I agree. If I ever write a novel, I would write about multiracial and multi-religious families. I think those are very important subjects, especially in this current climate.