11 Feb / Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han [in Booklist]
Jack is the older brother to six-years-younger Annabel, but in many ways, he’s the newest among the Cheng family. Born in China, he was raised by his grandparents when his mother, Patty, left to pursue a physics PhD in the U.S. with his photographer father, Liang, following soon thereafter. Only after Annabel’s birth does Jack arrive in Plano, Texas, to complete the quartet.
With subtle shifts in accent and tone, narrator James Chen immediately distinguishes each family member, giving special attention to Jack, who faces the greatest challenge in navigating relationships at home and beyond. Five years after his reunion, 11-year-old Jack has become Annabel’s protector, especially when she regularly sleepwalks out of their house. Vulnerable though she might be in darkness, she’s no daylight wallflower – she’s her preschool’s resident bully, already a precocious manipulator of everyone around her.
During a Thanksgiving gathering, surrounded by friends and neighbors, Annabel instigates a shattering event that threatens to destroy the already fragile family. As debut author Simon Han’s haunting immigrant story turns American dream into waking nightmare, Chen reveals the disturbing narrative with admirable, convincing restraint.