Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (4 out of 5)


This book had tons of press when released in hardcover. A number of customers told me to read it. Critics told me to read it. Of course, because I am obstinate and don’t always buy into the hype, I forgot about it. Until last week. Then it came out in paperback and it was on the table up front. I kept reading the back and thinking “Why the hell not”? So I bought it and threw it on the ever expanding pile. Unfortunately, I’ve not had a lot of time this past week to read, but I finally sat down Friday and tore through much of it, and finally finished it yesterday. I was GUTTED. Absolutely gutted. Ng has a gift for putting such beauty and heartbreak into her words, into her characters, into the readers’ psyche. This is not an easy novel to read, because it’s centered around the heartbreak of losing a child. It’s harder by the end when it becomes clear what happened to the child. However, without a gifted voice like Ng to guide us, it would just be another story. I promise you, this is NOT just another story. Originally, I was only giving it three stars, but after thinking about the book overnight and still more this morning, I gave it 4 stars. Because if a book is still bouncing around in your brain 24 hours after you finished it, then that book deserves major props.

Lydia Lee has vanished. Her family is panicked, and grief-stricken once her body is discovered in a lake. The family’s been putting on a major show- namely to themselves. This is the 70’s in small town Ohio, and things were not as open-minded as they are in this day and age. James is Oriental, Marilyn is white, and their marriage creates waves of dissension around them. Marilyn’s mother disapproves, and Marilyn cuts her out of their new life. James encounters discrimination and jeers at his job, even having his students drop his class once they realize he is not white. The marriage thrives and they have three children, a house, and a seemingly stable home life. Marilyn gives up her dream of having a career to be a wife and mother. Lydia, their middle child, is the favorite of both. For, it appears to the reader, some unfulfilled dreams to come true. Marilyn pushes Lydia to have a career in medicine and be a doctor, because she went the way that was expected, and made a happy home and family life, instead of pursuing a career. Remember, kids, this WAS the 1970’s, not today where mothers can and often do both. Lydia, from early on, seems to enjoy cooking, not medicine. She quietly puts up with her mother’s blind ambition for her, hiding and never looking at the endless textbooks. Her father wants her to be THE popular girl in school, for he had the exact opposite experience. His continual inquiries into her social life at school quietly begins to eat away at Lydia, to the point that she makes up hanging out with friends, and pretends to have entire conversations on the phone so her father believes she’s as popular as he would like her to be. Basically, both parents living vicariously through their daughter. Nath, her older brother, understands and is her protector. However, his acceptance into Harvard means he will go away and leave her to the empty vacuum she feels her life has become. Lydia begins hanging out with Jack, her brother’s sworn enemy, and someone that has a reputation for being a ladies’ man. Her brother distances himself further. Lydia feels as if she’s drowning inside. One last gesture ends up making the estrangement from Nath much worse, and Lydia crashes and burns, quietly. Her family continues to move on with their expectations for her, and things grind to a complete and utter halt when she disappears soon after her birthday party (another occasion that turns out to be mortifying for the poor girl). Her body is found shortly after, and all hell breaks loose. The police appear to believe it’s suicide, while her grieving parents fight that assumption with all of their being. Her father makes a reckless decision that may cost him his marriage, Marilyn goes out of her mind while cleaning Lydia’s room and discovering that her daughter never once cracked open a book that she bought her, making her realize SHE was pushing her kid into something she had no interest in. Nath attempts to cope with his grief and guilt by drinking way too much and threatening Jack, whom he believes killed Lydia. Hannah, the youngest, quietly blames herself for not being more attentive to Lydia before her disappearance. The house of cards falls, in spectacular fashion. And with so many things true in life, the smallest thing is the thing that may be the key to rebuilding this family, after they suffer the greatest loss.

This book splintered ME in a thousand directions. I wish the order of the narration had been different. I wish Lydia had spoken up more. I cannot wish it had ended differently, because the ending makes perfect sense with the context of everything that happened to Lydia within the pages. I wish the parents had been more aware and less myopic with their dreams for naught. I would like to have kicked her parents with some steel toed boots. I would like to have shaken Nath, and told him to tune in more to his sister’s pleas. I can’t say more, or I will end up giving away more than I should to those who haven’t read the book. I will say this- what a phenomenal book. Ng should get major recognition for how well she writes her characters and that of the splintering family dynamic. This book will break your heart. Yes, yes, it will. But what a way to have it broken.

~ by generationgbooks on June 21, 2015.

One Response to “Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (4 out of 5)”

  1. I agree, G, that this book will stick with you after finishing it. I reviewed it for GoodReads and also upped the rating I gave for it after starting the review. At one point I went back to check a fact and ended up rereading a dozen pages. Ng’s word choices are gorgeous, even when it hurts to digest them. I know it’ll be a story I will come back to again.

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