Published by Penguin on June 26th 2014
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary
Audiobook provided by Ford Book Club (Goodreads)
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, 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 center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
Everything I Never Told You is a book about race, death, love, lies, prejudice, academia, and family. This might have had the best first line of any book I have read this year: “Lydia is dead, but they don’t know this yet.” Lydia is the middle child, the favorite child. Her death throws the delicate balance of this mixed race family living in 1970s in Ohio, into a quandary. They must face the things that have been driving them apart.
I have to admit that this book is something I might not have chosen for myself to read. I missed all the hype about it and only learned about it on Goodreads, as it was the latest pick in the Ford Audiobook Club. This book has been featured in a lot of places. It made the list of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year so far 2014. Being a debut novel, this is really impressive. Now that I have read the book, I can see why.
This book is so well written. The characters each have a story to tell, secrets to reveal and surprises in their tales for the reader. The time period, 1970s, was such a good choice for this novel. Being part of a mixed race family, (Chinese-American), in a time when mixed couples were being arrested, was very bold. The mother, Madelyn, is white. She wanted to be a doctor in a era when women did not become doctors. She became pregnant early in her academia and then had to settle for being a stay-at-home-mom. James, the father, is a Chinese childhood immigrant. James teaches American History at a college in Ohio. There is a bit of irony there, since all James wants is to fit in as an American. Their relationship is so strained. They bond because they both know what it is like to be different. They both have unfulfilled dreams.
Lydia is the child that mixes both races. She is the one they project all of their aspirations on. A blue eyed Chinese girl, pretty and smart enough to make all of her parent’s dreams come true. Lydia is a bundle angst. Her deepest wish to please her mother and father, both in their own ways, leaves her a shell.
There is a big brother, Nath, and a little sister, Hannah. They each have interesting stories that are revealed in this book as well. Reading this book, I couldn’t help feeling like I was peeling back layers to reveal the people in this family as they really are. In the midst of the investigation into how Lydia ended up in the water, this family is made to face their deepest feelings for each other. The feelings missing and the ones they don’t want to admit to. By the time we get into learning about the real Lydia, we can see why she could never have lived up to the challenge her parents set before her.
I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to be moved by a story. The author’s descriptive style was such a delight to get immersed in. I could see, feel, hear, and touch the narrative. The style of writing is the best I have read all year. The subject and revelations were brutal and hard to digest. Just like real life there was much more than meets the eye to these characters, and this book.
About the Author
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.
Currently she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son, where she teaches fiction writing at Grub Street and is at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories.