Everything I Never Told You
Penguin Books, 2014
Paperback, 292 pages
“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 favourite 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.
I like to alternate my reading selection which was why after reading and reviewing all those new YA novels, I decided that I wanted to pick up this book. I got it at a Value Village for quite a bargain, which was great, since I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile. I regret not reading it sooner — there’s always too many books to be read though.
Everything I Never Told You really struck a chord with me because I found that it was so relateable. We are given glimpses into three different generations of the Ngs in America and with each generation, they are still dealing with discrimination and racial slurs as they are the only Asians in their communities. The novel uses the word Oriental which I know is common for those times, but it’s not a term that I like to use. With this topic, it did hit close to home because although we now live in the 21st century, our society is still dealing with issues of race and discrimination. I thought that it was even more interesting in the novel because based on the synopsis, I had not known that Marilyn Lee was actually a white woman who married the Chinese man, James Lee. This added an extra dimension of depth to the characters.
“People decide what you’re like before they even get to know you”
― Celeste Ng,
Another theme of the novel is family and as the narration jumped between the perspectives of the different characters, we can see how easily a family is broken apart because of their secrets. At the same time, it’s because of those individual secrets and desires that can help a family get back to one another. The dynamics of this family starts to slowly unravel for readers as we begin to try and understand what led to Lydia dead in the lake.
“What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.”
― Celeste Ng,
And that’s what the novel is about – understanding how she ended up dead. And at times during the novel, you forget that that is why you’re reading. You get immersed in the family stories and the relationships between the members of the family. And then every so often, you think Oh right, and how did this lead to the death? Without spoiling it, I can only that, personally, I really enjoyed the way it all came together.
If you’re interested in a hauntingly beautiful story about family, grief, dreams, discrimination, and secrets, this is for you.
“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”
― Celeste Ng,