Everything I Never Told You
By: Celeste Ng
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
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.
I’ve long had this book on my wishlist but just never got around to picking it up sooner. It was only when I not only heard continuous rave reviews about her second book, Little Fires Everywhere, and that it was going to be made into a television series that I decided to finally get around to her books. Oh, that and I see her tweets a lot on Twitter 🙂
That’s the first word that popped to mind when I finished reading this book. It’s such a balancing act that this book portrayed, of a family not only dealing with their grief and the loss of an integral family member, but also the fissures lying beneath the surface within the family. On the one hand there’s the experience and reality of being a mixed-ethnicity family in the 1970s and the expectations and experiences there of what it means to be different, what it’s like, and what each family member wants out of that. Nowadays it’s not quite a strange reality to see a mixed ethnicity culture; yes, there’s always the balance of bringing together two cultural experiences, but reading as Marilyn and James try to navigate assimilating and being exceptional and fulfilling their own dreams had a streak of ardency (dare I say desperation?). And it was heartbreaking to see how each of their children had to deal with their parents’ expectations and their own–or lack thereof–in their own way.
On the other hand, and this is the part that really struck me, was the grief. The book goes back and forth between past and present, how these characters got to the point of Lydia’s death. Each family member dealt with it a different way, each of them had a different experience with the last time they interacted with Lydia, how that experience would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Some people remember the last time they interacted with their loved one, not knowing that would be the last time, and it’s tinged with bitterness regardless. I think this is a universal feeling that people can empathise with and understand.
God, and that last scene with Lydia…
It took me a moment to figure out how to rate this book. It was engrossing from the first page and while I wasn’t obsessing over it per se, it does stay with you long after the last sentence. So yeah, I highly recommend this book if you haven’t read it yet. I can’t wait to read Everywhere Little Fires now 🙂