Everything I Never Told You: A Novel

Celeste Ng
“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now. . . . Deep, heartfelt.” —The New York Times Book Review“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.


Reviewed: 2018-07-30

What a gorgeous book! When I started reading it I was amazed at the details and the language. I was drawn in and and felt completely at home in this world. 

I have to admit that after reading about two chapters I flipped to the beginning of the book to see what other works Celeste Ng had written. This was simply too good a first book. When you read an author's entire works the first book is usually very weak. This book was so damn good. Little things that I normally hate (product placement) made sense here. What teen girl growing up in the 1970s - 1980s didn't have a bottle of Baby Soft perfume on her dresser? As soon as that bottle was mentioned I could smell the powdery scent, even though I haven't smelled it since the late 1980s. 

And the family dynamics were perfect. I felt as though this was a real family, as if the little slights that came from misunderstandings, parents' personal histories could be found in nearly any family. This book did bring up other books, and one that I thought about as I came close to finishing it was Jonathan Frazen's The Corrections. I read that book because it was THE book to read. People commented on the family and how real it was. The only time I felt I could understand that family was with the child forced to eat food he didn't want to and then being cheated out of his promised dessert. In Everything I Never Told You I thought about how the little incidents that happen in a life are read and misread. The bullying the father James and his son Nath experience bring to the mind bullying experiences you may have suffered. The feelings are always so close to the surface that you feel as if you are in some small way a member of this family. And isn't this was good writing does? Makes us understand each other and ourselves better. 

Easily, this will become one of the books I give as gifts because I love it so!

Reviewed: 2018-01-22

I have mixed feelings about this one. At first I thought it was a mystery thriller but then it became clear that this was about family dynamics with the "mystery" as just a backdrop. I also thought the switching between character point of views rapidly, even mid-paragraph sometimes, was disorienting. Overall it was a good story with some powerful themes.

Reviewed: 2016-09-19

            After reading Everything I Never Told You, it is clear why it was noticed by The New York Times as a notable book of the year.  This novel takes a serious topic of suicide that is very prevalent among our young adults and delves into the unseen corners within ones mind. Not only did this book make me aware of the hardship and signs of someone who is considered depressed; but also taught me the life of an Asian family in the 1970’s was nothing close to easy. Celeste Ng made superior choices from her choice of using flashbacks, 3rd person omniscient narrator, and vivid imagery. Through this novel I learned that there is so much more behind closed doors, and as one reads, the reader will realize that there are many things within the confines of your family and home that the outside world will never know.

            As an English teacher, I believe I could use this novel effectively within my classroom but would be weary that the topic may be detrimental for some students. I think the key to knowing whether it would be appropriate, would be to learn about my students. I would definitely use this book as a part of an author’s craft unit. Celeste Ng does amazing things in her writing—such as using flashbacks. The flashbacks are written so seamlessly that the readers never find themselves confused; and when she knows that it is a total subject change she will mark the flashback or present vignette with a symbol. Another thing I would address besides the usual imagery, figurative language, and dialogue, would be the authors choice in using “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know it yet” as the first line of the novel.  Celeste puts the main theme and conflict of the novel right in your face in the first sentence of the book, yet you find that this central conflict unfolds the rest of the family’s lives.

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