Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng follows the Lee family after the death of middle daughter, Lydia. A mixed-race family in 1970s America, the Lee’s family dynamic is complex, to say the least. And that was before Lydia’s death!
James, the father, is of Chinese descent. Lydia’s death draws him to reflect on how this has shaped his life growing up in the United States. Ultimately, he feels as though he has disappointed his wife, Marilyn. There are times when he feels as though she would’ve been happier had she married a white man.
Marilyn is completely (and understandably) thrown by Lydia’s death. Most of all, she is frustrated by the fact that the police have ruled her daughter’s death a suicide. She feels as though the police have totally given up on her daughter. And she’s certain that it wasn’t an accident.
The story reveals that Lydia has been constantly suffocated by her parents’ expectations for her. The clear favourite, her parents had mammoth dreams for her. Her father desperately wished for her to be popular. Her mother was sure that she’d excel in Sciences, just as she had. Lydia begins to feel as though she’s failed on both counts, though her parents are blissfully unaware.
There are so many truly incredible elements to this story, yet it never feels too busy. Celeste Ng discusses family, race, infidelity and failure. This is done with an incredible host of richly developed characters. In addition to James, Marilyn and Lydia, we are introduced to Nath, Hannah and Jack.
Nath is the eldest son, desperate to get away from home. Hannah, the youngest child, feels totally invisible. Jack is the boy next door, and Lydia’s only friend. Known for being a bit of player, Nath is less than impressed to realise that this is the company his little sister has decided to keep.
As the mystery unravels, the relationship between all of these characters becomes more complicated. Hell, the story itself becomes more complicated.
With every page, Celeste Ng shows just how complex everyday life can be. She shows us what it’s like to feel alone, to feel like an outsider, to feel like you’re misunderstood, to feel like you’ve failed.
It’s the sort of book where you can actually connect with the characters. You can empathise with them. You watch the story unravel and you so desperately want to hold their hands and take them away from their pain.
I completely fell in love with this heart-wrenching story. It was haunting and moving and just everything that I’ve ever wanted in a novel. Such an incredible debut, and I’m excited to see what else Celeste Ng has up her sleeve.