Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Press
Release Date: May 12, 2015
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
Lydia is dead. This information is offered up to hook you in, but that’s not really what the story is about. More than anything, I thought this book was a character study.
I found myself confused for pretty much the entire book. In a lot of books it’s laid out for you; I’m supposed to hate this person and feel sorry for this person. There’s no such thing in this book. All of these characters are pitiable, while simultaneously infuriating. They were real.
Everything I Never Told You manages to tackle many themes, including: being mixed-race/racial alienation, gender roles, sexuality, familial favoritism and more. I liked reading about their experiences as the only Chinese-American children in their town, especially considering this book takes place in the 1970’s. Many people in their town had never even seen a Chinese person in real life before, so you can probably imagine what they went through.
Siblings Lydia and Nath made me think a lot. Who would I want to be in their situation? Lydia is extremely loved and given all the attention while Nath is ignored, no matter what he does or accomplishes. Although one may stick out as being better, you will learn that just like the characters, there is a lot of grey area.
Everything I Never Told You is an understated, but beautifully haunting debut novel. I think it’s a novel that anyone could love, so I totally recommend it. I can’t wait to see what kind of story Celeste Ng will tell next.