This review contains spoilers.
““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.”(From Goodreads)
Rating: 3.75/5 Crowns
Comparable Book(s): Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, and Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Everyone has received some amount of pressure from their parents. I’m fortunate enough to have parents that allow me to choose to live my life how I see fit. They love me and want the best for me, much like how James and Marilyn loved and wanted the best for Lydia. However, the weight of their “love” drove Lydia to suicide.
Everything I Never Told You is about what pushed Lydia to kill herself and how that impacts her family. Lydia is the “favorite” child. The child that gets the goodnight kisses and the last slice of cake. The child that is mentioned first to co-workers and friend. The child who bears the crushing weight of her mother and father’s hopes and dreams. Marilyn and James were so desperate to finally get their life right the put the burden on Lydia.
History has a way of repeating itself and by avoiding our past we often run right into it. Marilyn hated the way her mother pressured her to find a husband. She had, what she considered to be, bigger and better dreams. Marilyn wanted to become a doctor. But life and love had other plans and she married James. Without understanding the full context of what she was doing, Marilyn pressures Lydia much in the same way she was pressured by her mother. Lydia is under constant stress to perform well in school so she can accomplish her mother’s dream of becoming a doctor. Marilyn is too blind to see that Lydia never wanted to be a doctor, she just wanted to make her mother happy.
James was never popular or liked when he was young, being the only Chinese American student in school. Children were cruel and racist, so he never had any friends. He never was able to “fit in”. However, when he had Lydia he was convinced that she could be popular. She could live the life he never had. He even gifts her a book on how to “make people like you”, which only causes her to feel like she’s not good enough.
Lydia’s siblings, Nath and Hannah are left to the wayside. Nath feels like he’s hated by his father and that his mother loves Lydia more than him. Hannah is quiet as a mouse and often forgotten by her family. The pressure from James and Marilyn cause tension and a divide between all three children.
Celeste Ng captures so many important real life topics so well – interracial couples, mixed race families, misguided parents and suicide. I’ve read a couple of different books about teen suicide (Thirteen Reasons Why, Love Letters To The Dead) but they never covered the entire families thoughts, stories and emotions. Everything I Never Told You is unique in it’s complete coverage.
And the title of the book is so appropriate, given how many times I wanted to strangle some of the characters. Communication is the key to any relationship but almost every character in this book just bottled what they were feeling until they snapped.
This book made me sad and frustrated, which is partially why I didn’t give it 4/5 Crowns. There were points when I thought I would never feel a catharsis. I almost gave up reading it because I was tired of the way the Lee family talked (or rather, how they didn’t – and it’s okay, everything does finally get resolved). I also had some trouble following the writing because of the way Ng shifted the point of view from one character to another, without much warning.
However, in the end I believe that this book is one that should be on everyone’s TBR. A perfect snapshot of an imperfect family.
Have you read Everything I Never Told You? If so, I’d love to know your thoughts and opinions.
– Queen Celine