Review for “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng (2015)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
Like some other online reviewers have stated, I can’t say that I enjoyed reading this book either. The first line (above) grabbed me completely, but the more I read, the more difficult to read it became: the consistent tragedy, the loss, the heartbreak. While I did not give this book five stars (I would have have to had to have loved reading it for that rating), it is a solid four stars, hands down.
This story is set in the 1970’s in small town Ohio, and follows several years in the life of a Chinese American family with three children–Nath, Lydia, and Hannah. James, their father, a man of Chinese decent born in the US, feels compelled to fit in, a feat he never accomplished as a child. Marilyn, their Caucasian mother, wants desperately to achieve her dream of becoming a medical doctor, a dream that she reluctantly gave up to become a mother. As their children get older she and James obsessively transfer their desires upon their middle child, Lydia, who becomes the obvious favorite of their family. Meanwhile, Nath and Hannah are just satellites that revolve in the background, overlooked and ignored.
It’s hard to read this book. Your heart breaks for Nath and especially Hannah, who is completely oblivious to the entire family throughout most of the book. This is to say nothing for Lydia, who feels so emotionally hampered by the burden of her parents’ expectations that she is eventually driven to do the unthinkable.
What I loved about this story was its omniscient narration–the story constantly switches between the perspectives of the parents, each one of their children. You don’t like them very much but through the flashbacks you learn about about James and Marilyn’s pasts, as well as how and why they eventually go on to break the hearts of all of their children.
Ng develops the story perfectly. You learn everything about this family, inside and out–the thoughts in their heads, the place settings at their kitchen table. I cannot say that I would read this again, but I do recommend it. It’s an excellent book.