Book Review: "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng

The first two lines in this book are:

Lydia is dead.  But they don’t know this yet.

Right there, everything is set up.  Lydia is the middle child, the teen onto whom all the parental hopes are pinned.   And one morning, she doesn’t come down for breakfast.  Her mother, Marilyn and her father, James are at a complete loss, in denial, and just don’t understand.  Older brother Nath and younger sister Hannah have no idea what to think.  And the story stems from this one morning in 1977 where Lydia is missing from the breakfast table, and moves forward into the months following the funeral.  

The story also involves quite a bit of the family’s history – specifically the “otherness” that they all feel:  James is American-born but of Chinese decent, Marilyn is Caucasian and so their children don’t feel accepted anywhere by anyone.  They are outsiders, and while all James wants is for he and his children to blend into the social norms of the time- Marilyn has only wanted to break free of the social norms and become a doctor, not a housewife.  There are tensions and conflicts here that are important to examine, and I think this is accomplished wonderfully here.

This has to be one of the saddest books ever produced.  And it is written so well, the layers run so deep – it is impossible not to feel the hollowness that permeates this family.  There is just so much in play here – race and gender roles, the expectations placed upon us by society and our parents, the importance of feeling heard and the need to listen to everything that is being said and not just what you want to hear.  I truly enjoyed reading this book, but I don’t think this is for everyone – or at least I would recommend it with a notification that this is indeed a brilliant and moving book, but it is not a happy one.  This was definitely a different book for me, but I am so glad I read it.  This will certainly stay with me for a while.

Good news – This just came out in paperback!

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Penguin Press, 2014
293 pages
Source:  Library

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