Ng (pronounced "ing") spent the first nine
years of her life in the Pittsburgh suburb of South Park
and recalls frequent visits to Century III Mall where
her parents, who were academics, shopped
enthusiastically at B. Daltonís and Waldenbooks.
house was just crammed full of books," said the
writer, whose debut novel, "Everything I Never Told
You," made The New York Times list of 100 Notable
Books of 2014 and was the Amazon book of 2014. Ng, 34,
lives in Cambridge, Mass.
debut novel, set in 1977, focuses on the Lee family.
Thereís Marilyn, an American woman who ignored her
motherís advice and married James, who is Chinese; the
coupleís two daughters, Lydia and Hannah; and a son,
Nath. Members of the mixed-race family try hard to blend
into the vanilla atmosphere of a college town in Ohio.
But the Lees remain outsiders, and their sense of
isolation is palpable.
the story opens, Lydia Lee drowns in a lake and so does
her motherís fervent hope that her daughter will
become a doctor. Among surviving family members, the
death of this promising high school student dredges up
intense resentment, bitter truths and harsh anger. Who
knew the word kowtow was so loaded?
a child, Ng often visited the gargantuan dinosaurs at
the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where she
nurtured a dream of becoming a paleontologist. She
compared the job of structuring her novel, which went
through four drafts before it sold, to one of the major
tasks that paleontologists confront.
is a story and it has a shape. You dig it up and expose
all the pieces and all the bones that are there and
assemble them into a shape that makes sense. I had the
pieces of the story. I had to figure out the right way
to wire them all together," she said during a
challenge, Ng said, was showing readers how the Lee
familyís past and present were intertwined.
present was calling back into the past. That took a lot
of experimenting," Ng said, adding that at one
point, she used color-coded index cards with strings.
parents emigrated from Hong Kong to the U.S. in 1968.
Her father was a physicist who enrolled in a doctoral
program at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.,
while her mother, also a physicist, worked as a research
scientist in a laboratory. Later, her mother completed a
doctorate in chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
parents really wanted me and my sister to be successful.
They had come from another country and worked hard to
educate themselves," Ng said.
writing the novel, the writer gave birth to her first
child, a son.
had finished the third draft just before I had
him," she recalled. "Having him made it easier
to write the scenes about parenting and, in some ways,
evokes the year of 1977 by quoting from a 1968 Betty
Crocker cookbook that was given to her mother when she
arrived in the U.S.
called the pie edition. Thereís a pie on the
front," Ng said, adding that cookbooks are cultural
artifacts that say a lot about the era during which the
book was published.
tell us about what we think is important," Ng said,
noting that cleansing, drinking raw juices and learning
to bake your own Thin Mints cookies are just a few
examples of how bakers and cooks of today are trying to
reclaim foods that have been manufactured.
the novel, when Mrs. Lee returns home from an extended
absence, she refuses to cook for her family.
her way of making a statement about what sheís willing
to do and where her priorities are," Ng said.
"Iím not going to do this thing that is very
explicitly expected of me."
will be an instructor next summer in a low residency
creative writing program at Ashland University in
Ashland, Ohio. She is at work on a second novel, set in
Shaker Heights, an affluent suburb of Cleveland, Ohio,
where she spent her adolescence.