Review: Everything I Never Told You

everything-i-never-told-you“A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.
When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.
A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.” – Goodreads


“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

What a great way to start a book! I was on my toes instantly when I read the opening lines to Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Interestingly enough, I was expecting a murder mystery – but that is not what I got. Ng (pronounced “-ing”) gives us far more to digest in her debut novel about a family that was in crisis even before the tragedy of their daughter’s death.

Everything I Never Told You, set in 1976, is the story of the Lee family – a mixed race, Chinese-American family of five. James Lee, college professor, is first-generation Chinese-American. Marilyn Lee is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian who gave up her dreams of becoming a doctor when she and James began their family. Nathan (known as Nath), the eldest, is off to Harvard in the Fall and can’t wait to get out of the house. Lydia, the middle child, is the focus of her parents’ attention and suffers greatly from the pressure. Hannah, the youngest, while largely ignored by the rest of the family, perhaps sees them with the clearest eyes of all.

After Lydia is discovered dead, the Lee family threatens to implode. Ng brings us back and forth seamlessly between the years as she reveals the dysfunction of the family and family  members, exploring compelling and urgent issues. What happens to a family when the parents focus their hopes and dreams upon one particular child? What happens to that child; what happens to the siblings? There is also a great emphasis on racial and gender issues based on James’s and the children’s struggles with society as well as Marilyn’s experiences in the male-dominated field of medicine.

Ng’s writing is beautiful as she fluidly and seamlessly moves from character to character. Everything I Never Told You is a novel that will urge you to delve into yourself and ask many questions: what is success – happiness? What does it mean to belong? What must we do to understand one another? And most importantly – what must we do to understand ourselves? I was blown away by this stunning and powerful debut novel. I strongly believe you will be, as well.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Buy it, read it, love it.

4 stars

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia



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4 thoughts on “Review: Everything I Never Told You

  1. Cathy746books says:

    I just love the cover of this book. It sounds fantastic and reminds me a little of We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. Maybe one for the birthday present list?!

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