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Review: All That's Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien

Title: All That's Left Unsaid

Author: Tracey Lien
Year published: 2022
Category: Adult fiction
Pages: 304 pages
Rating: 3.5 to 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2023 Google Reading map): Australia

Summary: Just let him go. These are the words Ky Tran will forever regret. The words she spoke when her parents called to ask if they should let her younger brother Denny out to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. That night, Denny—optimistic, guileless, brilliant Denny—is brutally murdered inside a busy restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, a refugee enclave facing violent crime, an indifferent police force, and the worst heroin epidemic in Australian history. 

Returning home to Cabramatta for the funeral, Ky learns that the police are stumped by Denny’s case: a dozen people were at Lucky 8 restaurant when Denny died, but each of the bystanders claim to have seen nothing. 

Desperately hoping that understanding what happened might ease her suffocating guilt, Ky sets aside her grief and determines to track down the witnesses herself. With each encounter, she peels back another layer of the place that shaped her and Denny, exposing the seeds of violence that were planted well before that fateful celebration dinner: by colonialism, by the war in Vietnam, and by the choices they’ve all made to survive. 

Review: I had high hopes for this one, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations.

What I liked about it
  • It deals with relationships well: those within families; among friends; and between immigrants and the white population.
  • The issue of gangs and drugs is raised and the impact of them on a town shown thoughtfully.
  • The female lead, Ky, finds a strength within herself as she tries to figure out why her brother was killed.
What didn't work as well for me
  • The back and forth between now and when the main characters were growing up. Normally I don't mind novels that cover different time periods, but for some reason the way this one did it felt like the past interrupted the present. I say that even though sections on the past revealed information about the characters that was relevant.
  • I can't quite put my finger on what didn't work; this novel just felt a bit flat to me.
  • The reveal at the end as to why Deny was killed didn't live up to a plot climax. The whole book had built up to this moment and when it came, it felt like more of a vehicle to get Minnie and Ky to reconcile than to solve the murderer's motive.
Challenges for which this counts:
  • Popsugar--A favorite challenge from a previous year (2022: about a secret)

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