Review: Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Everything I never told you
Book cover: Lydia’s dead body floating on water

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.

I read Everything I Never Told You for Asian Lit Bingo, and it was amazing. I was floored, I had chosen it for the historical fiction slot and I am not impressed by most of the historical fiction I’ve read, so this was a lovely surprise.

This book is #ownvoices.

It was a fascinating story, and I felt like I was really living in the 1970s. It felt so real. One really got a feeling for the racism and sexism of that decade and how it affects the different characters and their relationship with each other.

It was fascinating to read a story that analysed the structure of a family and how the people influenced each other and interacted with each other. How outside events impacts what the family did and why.

I liked how there were several questions that were brought up at the beginning, where we as readers were given answers at the end. This is my favourite kind of writing, when we actually find out what some small things meant and how they came to be, and they aren’t answered that often.

I was very intrigued by the interactions between Jack and Nath (Lydia’s brother), my intrigue growing as we discover more about Lydia’s relationship to both her brother and Jack. I really wanted to find out how Jack and Nath interact with each other after the last scene, and after we learn what Jack is hiding from everyone. We don’t find this out though, and I really would love a sequel just to know how their lives continue and whether Jack ever tells Nath.

The story is told through the perspective of the five family members: Lydia, her parents, her sister, and her brother. Each perspective showed a different aspect of the story and sometimes we got to read about more than one person’s opinion on a specific event. This was so interesting.

One of my favourite parts was the portrayal of the mother who was white. She was the one who was very fixated on Lydia having good grades. So many people think that the Asian parent is the one who is always fixated on grades and this is not true. The same with what Lydia should do after school, her mother was the one saying what she should be, not her dad. So many people think that it’s the Asian parent who will force the child to study something or encourage them to study something they don’t want to do. It was wonderful to read a different story, because there are so many stereotypes about Asian parents of multiracial kids and how they’re always the ones forcing the child to do something. I’m not saying that there aren’t Asian parents who are like this, but sometimes both the Asian parent and the non-Asian parent can be like this, sometimes the non-Asian parent is the stricter and more forceful parent, and sometimes the Asian parent is stricter in some areas and the non-Asian in others. So what I’m trying to say is that it was wonderful to read another narrative, a narrative that I truly needed to read.

The racist words “Oriental” and “Indian” (as a synonym for Native Americans) are used.

I adored this book, especially for its portrayal of a biracial family. Totally recommend it.

Trigger warning: death, threat of outing someone.

5 stars

Have you read Everything I Never Told You?


6 thoughts on “Review: Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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