Denny Tran is dead. No one seems to know how or why, even though he died in a popular and crowded restaurant where he and his pals had gone to celebrate the end of the high school year. Improbable though it may sound, everyone seems to have been in the restroom or have been averting their eyes at that moment. But Denny’s sister, Ky, the protagonist of Tracey Lien’s suspenseful debut novel, All That’s Left Unsaid, is determined to get answers.
Ky is a journalist living in Melbourne, Australia, and to find out what happened to her sweet-natured, brilliant, beloved younger brother, she’ll have to return to her hardscrabble hometown and interrogate people from her own community. The Vietnamese émigrés of Cabramatta—a suburb of Sydney—spend their lives sacrificing and compromising, trying to stay out of trouble and sometimes falling short. This includes Ky and Denny’s checked-out father and loud, infuriating yet surprisingly lovable mother.
Coming back to her parents’ home, Ky must resist lapsing into the role of obedient daughter—the child who never causes trouble or makes anyone uncomfortable, who nearly wrecks herself trying to meet familial expectations. If Ky wants to expose the truth of her brother’s gruesome death, she’s going to have to make some people uncomfortable.
Fortunately, Ky has a superpower, even as she struggles to acknowledge it. Part of her conscience—the voice that can cut through the nonsense and get at some cold, hard truths—comes from her former friend Minnie. For years, docile, striving Ky and hard, cynical Minnie were inseparable, until adolescence struck and wedged them apart. Ky still holds onto a part of Minnie, and this connection bolsters Ky as she demands answers at the local police department. It gives her the nerve to interview her former high school teacher, the restaurant’s wedding singer, Denny’s best friend and other people who were present on that terrible, fatal night.
All That’s Left Unsaid might remind some readers of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, another novel about a journalist daughter returning to her fractious hometown to investigate a murder and having to engage with both a difficult family and former neighbors who are reluctant to talk. Like Camille Preaker, Ky discovers something shocking in the end. Yet Lien’s novel, by turns gripping and heartbreaking, makes room for forgiveness and understanding. Ky knows all about her people, and to know all is to forgive all.