Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Goodreads Summary: “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.”
This was a good read, but be warned is devastatingly sad.
Ng so magnificently crafts characters – family members each harboring their own secrets so well that they are oblivious to each other’s thoughts. Each family member battles with their own desire to fulfill a role – to fit in, facing both racism and sexism. Ng asks the question – what is more important, the desire to ‘fit-in,’ the desire to please, or the desire to exceed expectations? Or are they all the same thing? These questions allow Ng to capture how one seemingly insignificant act of a parent can scar a child forever:
“Before she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
It takes the catalyst of one child’s death, Lydia, for the remaining family members to realize that they actually have failed to truly talk to each other.
I am particularly impressed with the title of this book – When I originally picked up the book, I thought the title would refer to things Lydia didn’t say before she died. But it actually could apply to all characters. “Everything I Never Told You” Who is the I? Who is the you?
I was also impressed by the time period in which Ng chose to place her story. I think by choosing the 70’s the racism and sexism faced by characters is more prominent and the reader is less likely to blow them off. Although, this story could easily be placed in today’s time period, the characterization is strengthened by Ng’s choice.
This book is a great reminder of the importance of talking to our children and how to manage expectations. 4 stars from me. Give it a try, what do you think?