THAT TIME I LOVED YOU
Written by Carrianne Leung
Published by Harper Collins, March 27, 2018
My star rating: 3.5 stars
Tensions that have lurked beneath the surface of a shiny new subdivision rise up, in new fiction from the author of the Toronto Book Award—shortlisted The Wondrous Woo
The suburbs of the 1970s promised to be heaven on earth—new houses, new status, happiness guaranteed. But in a Scarborough subdivision populated by newcomers from all over the world, a series of sudden catastrophic events reveals that not everyone’s dreams come true. Moving from house to house, Carrianne Leung explores the inner lives behind the tidy front gardens and picture-perfect windows, always returning to June, an irrepressible adolescent Chinese-Canadian coming of age in this shifting world. Through June and her neighbours, Leung depicts the fine line where childhood meets the realities of adult life, and examines, with insight and sharp prose, how difficult it is to be true to ourselves at any age. Find it on Goodreads
The best way to describe this book is – strangely addicting! I received an email from Harper Collins and, as soon as I read the synopsis, I was intrigued. I was also just about to start a Celeste Ng book and they sounded kind of similar. I’ve really been craving some adult drama type books, so I jumped on the chance.
As the book opens on a newly built neighbourhood in Scarborough Ontario, just outside of Toronto, we see a group of people all looking for the same thing; the perfect suburban life. A stones throw away from the city, they’re in a quiet place with tree lined streets, not having to lock their doors, friendly hello’s as they walk down the street, manicured lawns, and kids playing outside. It seems like a quiet paradise. But we quickly realize that what it looks like on the outside isn’t always what it’s like on the inside. Each chapter is a different perspective (some we see more than once), and each chapter gave us a complex glimpse into their lives. We learned about their dirty secrets, their personal problems, their desires, how they view others, and how they handle the strange events that unfold.
Some of the characters were really likeable. You found yourself holding your breath, wanting to cry with them, and hoping that things work out. Then there were others that just weren’t likeable at all – they were assholes to be honest. Wearing masks for everyone else to see. But at the same time you couldn’t help but read quickly to see how it would all play out. All of these different people and their lives playing out parallel to others was a very addicting format!
But, I will say, that some of the character perspectives fell a little flat while others were more wildly interesting. I kind of wish that all perspectives were from adults. There were quite a few different children that we heard from; all of them 12 and early teens, and all knew each other and ran in the same circles. I understood why these points of view were in place – children often see more than adults because they don’t view their observations as being all that important. Children are so often overlooked, seen as inconsequential, but they see more than you think they do. But I found that any of the chapters from the adult point of view were just so much more interesting, in your face, raw, and powerful. I think that the children’s POV’s compared to that of the adults is where the book fell flattest for me and lost the biggest star rating. I understood it, but I couldn’t help comparing these chapters and they felt as if they were on two different levels.
I also loved the fact that the vast majority of the people that moved into this neighbourhood weren’t white. And it’s very true to life as far as the origins of this part of Ontario. Most people were either first, second, or third generation immigrants from all over the world. People that moved to this area for the opportunities that it presented. None of them were really the same yet their differences brought them together somehow. They were all trying to find their way as Canadians while at the same time embracing their own roots, heritage, and traditions. It was really beautiful!! This added such a wonderful layer of acceptance and understanding to the neighbourhood as a whole.
The main theme of this book is one that makes you stop and think. People are always searching for something “bigger” and “better”. They look to material possessions, jobs, and houses to be the something “more” that sets them apart and makes them happy. But if the root causes of their problems aren’t changed then nothing is actually better in the end.
I really enjoyed this book! I thought the pacing was even and consistent, the writing was smooth, and there was enough intrigue to keep me moving along to the end. I think that fans of Celeste Ng would really appreciate this one!
Until next time, happy reading!