Everything I Never Told You – Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: Celeste Ng | Genre: Contemporary, Mystery | Pages: 125 | Publisher: Penguin Press

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.

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Not everything maybe right in the most perfect looking family – I can bet the author started off on this note. The Lee family is perfect on the surface but if you look closely there are secrets and surprises, oft times soaked in sadness oozing through the gaps of the flimsy familial fabric. After the death of their eldest daughter is when the family realizes that they are actually a bunch of strangers sharing a common roof.

“What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.”

With Everything I Never Told You, author Celeste NG has captured what might be the story of every family alive. And she brings it out with such flair and finesse that one can only marvel at her prodigy. Full of heartbreaking twists and turns, this book is narrated from the perspective of each of the Lee family members. The reader lives each of their stories feeling it as their own.

“She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful, quiet love that didn’t care and went on anyway.”

While on one side, it brings to light the several ways in which parents try to raise their kids without their own troubled pasts tormenting their children’s experiences. On the other side, it highlights the staggering truth about how some parents rely on their kids to fulfil dreams they themselves couldn’t. Lydia is one such kid. The remainder of the kids live in equal suffering until Lydia is dead, and then begins their journey of self-introspection, gaining significance in the household, and winning the love of their parents. The desperate attempts of the younger Lee kids at being acknowledged and appreciated doesn’t go amiss and packs an abundance of relevance.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you.”

The parent Lees are too lost and harassed by the demons of past and weighed down by their own expectations from each other that they never realize when they fell apart. The racial difference between the two and the lingering memories create a rift between them such no one ever could. And with Lydia gone, the wounds are freshly exposed, the misunderstandings rife again, and life starts to simmer on a low flame ready to engulf them both soon. The tornado that chaos that had disbalanced them now threaten to tear apart the lives of their children while the mystery around Lydia’s death lurks in the open, mocking them of their helpless incompetence.

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“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could know it over and shatter it.”

Raw with aching emotions and simmering in chaos, the desperation for normal times is quite evident from their dispositions. Characters so flawed yet loveable are the highlights of this book. The themes of womanhood, racial discrimination, sibling love, chasing ambition, cultural difference, familial bonds, are prominent and ones that keep you hooked to the endearing yet exhaustively moving tale of the Lees.

Everything I Never Told You is a modern-day family drama that makes the reader go back to their own family and look at it from the outside. Perhaps everything that looks perfect might not be so. And you wonder if anything needs fixed? If it is too late for anything to be fixed? And most importantly, where to begin? Totally recommend it.

Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem! 

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