Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Short Review: Ng provides new depth to the hackneyed “murder in a small town” plot line. The result is an insightful look into an Asian-American family in the aftermath of an extreme loss.
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
Author Celeste Ng starts Everything I Never Told You at what seems to be the end. In actuality, Lydia’s death is a fact to be gotten out of the way for better things. Because, while this is a book about Lydia, it’s more about the people she’s left behind.
When Lydia Lee, the child of Chinese-American interracial marriage, goes missing, there are no signs of forced entry. No signs of struggle. No signs of anything. Her family wakes up as though it is any other day, calling the police when they realize their daughter is missing. Readers know already; Lydia’s body is at the bottom of a local lake.
Leads are hard to find. As one of the school’s only “Oriental” students (the other being her brother, Nathan), she was largely ignored and ridiculed. “Mixed children have a hard time fitting in,” reads a local newspaper headline as police drift closer and closer to ruling the death a suicide. Faced with the possibility of never having true closure, each family member reflects on the landmark moments in their lives, moments which also had lasting effects on Lydia.
The best, and possibly also the worst, part of a book like Everything I Never Told You is that you see yourself and your loved ones in the characters. In Lydia, there’s the teenage longing for acceptance and the need for acknowledgement of her authentic self (who is that authentic self for Lydia, anyway?). In Hannah, there’s the learned insightfulness of a child who was never truly wanted. In their father, Dr. Lee, there’s a deep yearning to belong from a man who has lived his life visibly different from those who ridiculed him for his race.
These are people everyone knows. These are people everyone has been. The most painful part of the book is seeing familiar faces– familiar selves– lay bare through the characters that Ng so sensitively creates.
Again, I’m a big fan of spoiler-free reviews, so I’ll leave out the details of Lydia’s death for y’all to discover yourselves. I’ve seen many reviews list this book as a thriller, but by the book’s end, it almost doesn’t matter how or why Lydia has died. Just that she has, and that her family now has to learn how to live for themselves in the absence of the glue which held them together. Thus, the title of the book is just as much a reference to the secrets Lydia held from her family as it is about the future stories she’ll never be told.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.The small town murder is a plot that has been done before, but this book is differentiated from others partly because Ng’s exploration of Asian American identity and the role it plays in shaping one’s identity. It provides added dimension to what could otherwise be a one dimensional cast of characters.
Celeste Ng has a gift. The result was a smoothly written book with chapters that flowed effortlessly into one another, and characters who learn more about themselves than they do about Lydia. Everything I Never Told You is a great read that leaves you with hope for its characters, even though you only truly see them in the depth of life altering crisis.
Guest review contributed by Brown Books & Green Tea. Brown Books & Green Tea specializes in reading and reviewing multicultural literature. BB> fills a void, focusing on books by a wide range of writers from diverse backgrounds.