All The Books I Can Read

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Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

on December 5, 2019

Everything I Never Told You 
Celeste Ng
Blackfriars (Hachette UK)
2014, 305p
Purchased personal copy via iBooks

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

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

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest in the family – Hannah – who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page-turner, about secrets, love, longing, lies and race.

Almost two years ago, I read Little Fires Everywhere, and absolutely loved it, like pretty much everyone else. I ended up buying this book, her previous, in either one of those cheap or freebie deals iBooks have, as a promo. I can’t remember now if it was free or if it was discounted down to a couple of dollars but I snapped it up as soon as I saw it, probably not long after I read Little Fires Everywhere. And I’ve only just gotten around to reading it, even though I’ve been meaning to ever since I bought it.

It starts with the best line – “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know that yet.” And the Lee family are going about their early morning routine: Dad James is driving to his office where he’s a professor at a local college, mother Marilyn is preparing breakfast for her children Nath, Lydia and Hannah. Only Lydia doesn’t come downstairs and when Marilyn heads up to her bedroom to look for her, her room looks untouched, her bed not slept in. It’s several days later when Lydia’s body is found after they drag the local lake and from then on, it’s about finding out what happened to her. As the police investigate, what they turn up about her daughter doesn’t match the image her parents have of her. And her disappearance and death reveals cracks in her parent’s marriage that have been there for years.

The story then delves into Marilyn and James – how they met, became involved, married and had children. They’re a mixed race couple – Marilyn is white from Virginia or somewhere equally conservative and James is ethnic Chinese but born in America. His parents travelled to the midwest when he was small in order to take up jobs at a boarding school and James received an education at the same school and was accepted to Harvard. He was the only person of Asian ethnicity at his school and when he meets Marilyn at college, mixed marriages are not at all common. In fact when they get married, their marriage could be illegal in several different states. Their children have James’ colouring apart from Lydia, who has his hair but in a genetic lottery, her mother’s blue eyes. They are also the only children of Asian heritage at their school as well in 1970s Ohio and they experience the standard questions and childish bullying in regards to their Asian features.

Lydia’s disappearance highlights the way in which her parents interacted with her and her siblings. James is desperate for his children not to have the same isolated childhood that he did. He wants them to fit in, have friends, be normal teenagers. He’s happiest when he believes that Lydia is giggling on the phone to one of her friends or picking a dress to wear to a dance, or when Nath is playing a game at the local pool with some neighbourhood kids. Like James, Nath has been accepted to Harvard and is only weeks or a few months away from leaving the home when Lydia disappears. Their own relationship is explored in this novel as well, how they both cope with their parents frustrated ambitions for them. While James wants them to fit in, Marilyn has much more ambitious plans for Lydia. She wants Lydia to be her, to complete what Marilyn was not able to. Marilyn wanted to be a doctor and she bonds with Lydia when Lydia is a young child by tutoring her in maths and science, honing and shaping her knowledge so that one day, Lydia might be pre-med. Lydia is so keen to actually spend time with her mother, be the focus of her attention that she says yes to anything, because of a pact she made when Marilyn vanished briefly from their lives when Lydia was eight. And Hannah, she was the reason Marilyn’s dream was thwarted a second time and she’s largely ignored by everyone. They had to turn their attic into a bedroom for her when she was born and so she lives mainly up in the roof or in the background, almost forgotten, raising herself. She’s much younger than her siblings and although they are kind to her, she doesn’t share the closeness they had with each other, the bond of getting each other through the expectations. With Nath soon off to college, she feels abandoned by him, like he cannot wait to escape and leave everything behind, including her.

Although the book begins with Lydia’s disappearance and the discovery of her body and there’s a running question of what happened to her – was it accidental/misadventure, did someone harm her or was it self inflicted, the book is about the complex relationships between the family members and the way that James and Marilyn’s own childhoods have affected the way they parent their children and what they want for them out of life. It’s about racism and small town ostracisation and not fitting in. I really liked this and I can’t wait to read more from Celeste Ng in the future.


Book #201 of 2019

I’m counting this one towards my participation in the Reading Women Challenge, hosted by the Reading Women Podcast. I’m using it to check off the first prompt, mystery or thriller by a WOC. Although a domestic drama, there’s definitely a mystery running through this book of what happened to Lydia and how/why she came to be in the lake. This is the 21st novel completed for the challenge…..can I actually manage to finish this?!


3 responses to “Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

  1. This has been on my TBR forever!

  2. […] Mystery/Thriller by a WOC – Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. My review […]

  3. Lloyd Russell says:

    This one didn’t do it for me. But I liked Little Fires Everywhere a lot.

    Lloyd (408) 348-4849

    On Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 3:01 PM All The Books I Can Read wrote:

    > 1girl2manybooks posted: “Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng > Blackfriars (Hachette UK) 2014, 305p Purchased personal copy via iBooks > Blurb {from the publisher/}: Lydia is dead. But they don’t > know this yet. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and” >

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