"All That's Left Unsaid" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
Updated: Sep 22
Tracey Lien’s intense debut, “All That’s Left Unsaid,” is a murder mystery with multiple themes—family, friendship, cultural assimilation and heroin addiction. Readers will be snagged from page one as the main character, Ky Tran, deals with the death of her younger brother Denny, beaten to death in a Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta, Australia where the Tran family resides.
Ky and Denny are the offspring of Vietnamese immigrants, their father suffers a drinking problem and their mother has never learned to speak English. Theirs is a fractious relationship, but Ky and Denny have always known their parents loved them. Ky was born in Vietnam and spent time in a refugee camp with her mom and dad, but Denny was born in America. He’s been a star student and avoided the drugs and gangs rampant in Cabramatta, in actuality known as “the heroin capital of Australia in the 1990s.”
Because he’s always been a good kid and model student, Ky can’t understand who could have murdered Denny, and she makes it her mission to discover who the perpetrator is. Ky’s career serves her well. She’s a newspaper journalist, left home five years before and lives in Melbourne.
After pressuring the constable handling the Tran case, he relents and agrees to Ky interviewing people who were in the Lucky Eight. Denny and a few of his friends had gone to the restaurant after a school dance to celebrate their last year in school.
Coming back to Cabramatta is difficult for Ky because she hasn’t seen or spoken to her friend Minnie since the two had a serious falling out.
Minnie was a constant in Ky’s life growing up, her parents assuming responsibility for the Vietnamese girl because Minnie’s mom and dad were unavailable, the child was often hungry and wore tattered clothing. Minnie, Denny and Ky were serious mates, but as Minnie matured so did her distaste for “White” people. She had a perpetual chip on her shoulder and chided Ky for her relationships with those she perceived to be far different than her.
As Ky interviews people, backstories of the characters are provided—among them the child of a family who was in attendance, one of Denny’s teachers, his best friend and others. Secrets are kept until the explosive, tragic conclusion is revealed.
“All That’s Left Unsaid” has a lot to say about covert racism, childhood abuse and breaking the chain of poverty and drug use. It’s a thought-provoking but not overly violent story, a book I sped through in two days, unable to lay it aside—it’s a definite 5 out of 5.