Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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 favourite 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 all into chaos.

I spotted this book on the desk of one of my friends at work and was instantly grabbed by that blurb so went straight to Book Depository to order my own copy. And I was so glad I did!

I work in children’s publishing, so for a long time I have been reading solidly YA and Middle Grade books and had totally forgotten that once upon a time I also enjoyed reading adult literature.  So I decided to set myself a new challenge to broaden my reading horizons – I’m now trying to swap between adults and Children’s/YA with every book I read.

Everything I Never Told You was a great book to dip my toes back into adult literature with. It’s a short and easy read but it was intriguing and emotive from start to finish.

The story focuses mainly on the lives and hopes of Lydia’s parents – Marilyn and James. Marilyn was a Science major, determined to have a career and make a difference in the world. The only woman in her classes, she was unfazed by the criticisms of male peers and her mother, who believed her role was to be a housewife. That was until she met James Lee, fell in love and fell pregnant. Marilyn’s dreams of being a career driven woman were over. Meanwhile, James had his own issues to contend with. He was taken slightly more seriously than Marilyn in his career as he was a man, but his Chinese heritage made him unpopular in 1960s America. He was desperate to fit in and conflicted with fury at how Chinese immigrants were treated. Both James and Marilyn would go on to live vicariously through their daughter Lydia. Marilyn wishing and forcing her daughter to study hard for a career in medicine, whilst James urged her to be a normal popular high school teen, attending prom and hanging out with girlfriends.

I think everyone’s parents do this to some extent. They wish for their children not to make the same “mistakes” that they did. To be better, more popular, thinner, happier, smarter, richer, the list goes on… So this was a very relatable trope to read about and it was interesting to see it played out in the extreme. The effects that these desires had on the whole Lee family (including the other two totally overlooked children) was captivating.

I think my favourite part of this book was when Lydia’s parents discovered that they hadn’t really known her at all. They’d been so busy reflecting what they wanted her to be that they didn’t see it was all an act. Lydia’s small act of rebellion was enlightening for her parents (and me!) and would aid in their healing process as they began to realise the pressures they’d put her under.

The explanation chapter of what happened to Lydia was beautifully written. It was sad but cathartic and left me filled with mixed feelings of hope and melancholy. I don’t want to give too much away so you’ll just have to read it!

This book was an incredible and succinct look at issues of race, gender and family relationships that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a quick read.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is published by Hachette. I bought this book myself and all views stated are my own.

Available in Paperback, £8.99


Celeste Ng is an American author. Her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was the winner of 2014 Amazon Book of the year. Ng’s short story, Girls at Play, won a Pushcart Prize in 2012.


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