Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a book I’ve been meaning to read since reading Little Fires Everywhere by the same author at the start of 2018. It took me almost a year to finally buy this book. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.
This book is about the Lees, a Chinese American family living in a small Ohio town in the 1970s. The dad, James, is a Chinese American college professor who marries Marilyn, a white girl with ambitions of becoming a doctor. Getting pregnant with their first child halts Marilyn’s ambitions. They go on to have three children: Nath, Lydia and Hannah.
Although Nath is the oldest, the weight of both parents’ expectations fall on their middle child, sixteen-year-old Lydia. Marilyn wants Lydia to fulfill the dream she never could by becoming a doctor. James has struggled all his life with being the ‘other’ and dealing with people’s casual racism. He wants his daughter to have the friends and popularity he never had.
It’s not a spoiler to say that from the very first sentence of the book the reader learns that Lydia is dead. What we don’t know is how it happened. The book tells the story of the family, both past and present, through different family members’ point-of-view.
I wouldn’t say a lot happens in this book quickly. It’s more a slow burn novel as the story dives in and out of this family dynamic. It also doesn’t have much of a mystery element. Nevertheless I couldn’t put it down. The writing is compelling and kept me turning the pages until the end.
I felt for all the characters but this book was a classic example of if only people had talked to each other about their thoughts and feelings a lot of angst could have been resolved. But then there wouldn’t have been any story left. And I guess in real life a lot of families don’t communicate with each other.
I really enjoyed this book and will definitely read anything Celeste Ng writes in the future.
Verdict: A beautifully written novel of a family in crisis.