Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a fiction novel about a Chinese-American family living in Ohio in the 1970s; they lose their favorite child, Lydia and their whole world is turned upside down. The story centers around the Lee family; the mother is a house wife, father is an American history professor at a nearby college. There is an older brother, Lydia and then the youngest daughter, Hannah. The novel begins with the day Lydia does not come home; when the police finally look for her, they find her body at the bottom of the lake. An investigation is opened into the accident to attempt to determine if it was a murder or possible suicide. The whole family begins to unravel at the news that Lydia is dead; the story takes us through flashbacks of when Marilyn and James first meet in college, their wedding day, when Nathan is born and then Lydia.
The story follows the family as they cope with the loss of their daughter and sister; the story explains that Marilyn and James met in college when she was a student in his American history class. She ends up meeting him in his office to ask questions about the class, but they end up developing a relationship which forces Marilyn to withdraw from James’ class so they can be together. After dating for a while, James and Marilyn finally decide to get married; both of James’ parents died when he was still in college so he has no family. Marilyn’s mother attends the wedding, but she is less than thrilled to have a Chinese-American son-in-law. After the wedding, Marilyn never speaks to her mother again because of her disapproval of Marilyn’s spouse. Unfortunately, Marilyn’s mother’s words haunted James for years after they were married – he was terrified that one day Marilyn would agree with her mother, in that she made a mistake marrying James, and would decide to leave. After having two of their children, Marilyn would find out that her mother has died and that she needs to handle her mother’s estate.
Marilyn flies to Virginia, where her mother lived, to handle the estate. At first, she thought she would want to keep more items than she realized she really wanted to. She ended up salvaging her mother’s cookbook and nothing else; once she returned to Ohio she realized that she didn’t want to end up like her mother – only being remembered for her cooking and nothing else. Marilyn wants to make greater accomplishments (according to her) than her mother did so she decides to enroll in classes at a college in Toledo to finish her degree. She ends up leaving the family with no note left behind; since James thinks she’s either been kidnapped or has otherwise disappeared, he gets the police involved, but there is not much that they can do. She is gone for two months and during her absence, James struggles to take care of the kids. They have cereal for breakfast every morning and they miss eating eggs; he also doesn’t cook them much for dinner either. Not only is James having a hard time coping with Marilyn’s absence, his children have a hard time dealing with his inability to deal and with their mother’s absence. During this time, Nathan and Lydia become really close because they had to rely on each other for support.
When Marilyn finally returns to the house, it is because she is pregnant with Hannah and has to admit to herself that she likely will not be able to finish her degree and probably won’t get the opportunity to go to medical school and become a doctor like she had hoped. Since Lydia doesn’t want her mother to leave again, she decides to herself that she will do anything her mother asks her as long as it will keep her around. So Lydia grows up doing all of the things that her mother wants her to, that her mother suggests and that makes her mother happy. She typically tells her mother yes despite how she really feels about it simply because she doesn’t want her to go away again. Since Marilyn is laying a lot of her hopes on Lydia, she is tough on her when it comes to school and making good grades. Poor Lydia can’t catch a break either because just as badly as her mother wants her to do perform well in school academically, her father wants her to perform well socially. He wants her to be popular, makes friends, go out and fit in. It becomes clear that two different things are important to Marilyn and James; for Marilyn it is important that Lydia understand she can do whatever she wants to do as long as she is willing to work hard for it. For James it is important that Lydia simply feel comfortable at the school she attends, in the neighborhood she lives in, etc. He doesn’t want her to feel like an outcast or like she doesn’t belong since those are feelings he had to deal with as a child and still deals with somewhat as an adult.
Soon, Lydia feels overwhelmed with all of the expectations her parents have for her even though they are things that she doesn’t seem to mind. As a way to get away from it all, she ends up spending more time with a kid that lives down the street – Jack. Nathan doesn’t like Jack for some reason and it’s made worse with his sister going missing. Nathan believes that Jack knows what happened to his sister and wants to know what Jack knows. Lydia ends up spending time with Jack because she could talk to him about things she felt she couldn’t share with her family. It ends up becoming a comfortable friendship for Lydia and it also angers her brother Nathan to see her spending time with Jack due to Jack’s reputation of being a ladies man. Throughout the ordeal, the family falls apart; James ends up spending less time at home and more time at the ‘office’ with his teaching assistant. Marilyn spends hours at a time in Lydia’s room trying to figure out what happened to her daughter, Nathan tries to cope with feelings of loss over his sister and resentment towards her since his parents are acting like they don’t have any other children to care for or worry about since Lydia passed away.
Hannah, the youngest of the three children, has to cope with her own feelings as well as deal with others’ as well. It is evident that throughout the event, Hannah wants to be loved and needed affection from her family to help her deal with losing her sister. However, none of her family members pay attention to her. Hannah recounts how all of her family members never really wanted her around and whenever she went to hug or show affection to them, they pushed her away. Eventually she got used to observing and not participating; she would sit somewhere in a corner or hiding underneath furniture while she watched her parents dote on Lydia about everything. Hannah is patient, calm, understanding and handles her overall situation well; she is kind and thoughtful. She is my favorite character from this story – an unsung heroine.
I found the book intriguing and just had to know what happened to Lydia. How did she end up drowned in the lake? Did she want to do it or did someone drown her? The book is well written and the story is good. It has it’s kind of slow moments and could be considered boring considering the whole story revolves around this one family. The author does a good job of weaving the past with the present to bring the story together at the end. Overall, the book is good. I would recommend the book to any young adult looking for something different and enjoys fiction novels. Maybe a reader who enjoys puzzles or having to figure things out. Or people are just plain nosy like me and just have to know what happens. I purchased the book from Barnes and Noble during a sale; the price for the paperback edition is $16.00 (Members can get it for $14.40) or you can get it on Amazon for $11.35 (a Prime item too!). If you’re not interested in buying the book, I do recommend checking your local library to see if they have a copy. If they don’t, I would check to see if they have an inter library loan program in which they partner with other libraries in the county and can request books the other libraries have on their shelves for their patrons. So they may be able to request a copy from an area library if they have a program like that and another library in the program has an available copy of the book.
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