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Everything I Never Told You Paperback – May 12, 2015
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Selected by the Amazon Editors as the #1 Book of the Year: Lydia is dead. From the first sentence of Celeste Ng’s stunning debut, we know that the oldest daughter of the Chinese-American Lee family has died. What follows is a novel that explores alienation, achievement, race, gender, family, and identity--as the police must unravel what has happened to Lydia, the Lee family must uncover the sister and daughter that they hardly knew. There isn’t a false note in this book, and my only concern in describing my profound admiration for Everything I Never Told You is that it might raise unachievable expectations in the reader. But it’s that good. Achingly, precisely, and sensitively written. --Chris Schluep--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
*Starred Review* A teenage girl goes missing and is later found to have drowned in a nearby lake, and suddenly a once tight-knit family unravels in unexpected ways. As the daughter of a college professor and his stay-at-home wife in a small Ohio town in the 1970s, Lydia Lee is already unwittingly part of the greater societal changes going on all around her. But Lydia suffers from pressure that has nothing to do with tuning out and turning on. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting. Her mother is white, and their interracial marriage raises eyebrows and some intrusive charges of miscegenation. More troubling, however, is her mother’s frustration at having given up medical school for motherhood, and how she blindly and selfishly insists that Lydia follow her road not taken. The cracks in Lydia’s perfect-daughter foundation grow slowly but erupt suddenly and tragically, and her death threatens to destroy her parents and deeply scar her siblings. Tantalizingly thrilling, Ng’s emotionally complex debut novel captures the tension between cultures and generations with the deft touch of a seasoned writer. Ng will be one to watch. --Carol Haggas --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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The novel, which takes place in the late 70s, begins with Lydia's death. Was it murder? Was it suicide? Or was it something else? The reader spends most of the novel thinking one thing, only to be surprised at the end with the truth. The author delves into the lives of each family member: James, the father, who never felt really at home in any situation; Marilyn, the mother, whose dreams were shelved by the demands of marriage, family, and the times; Nathan, the older brother, whose brilliance is overlooked; Lydia, the golden child burdened with all the frustrated aspirations of her parents; and Hannah, the overlooked afterthought of a child, a silent but keen observer of everyone in her family. (I was torn between imagining the author as Lydia or as Hannah; I suspect she is an amalgam of both.)
Many chapters in this novel focus on just one character, telling the story from his or her point of view. The reader is led to an understanding of just how profoundly even the best intentions can go terribly awry. Once again, we see people living out their own frustrated dreams through their children, who may or may not be on board. The term "helicopter parent" comes to mind, though this idea was not in vogue until the 90s. In addition, issues of race in America and women's roles are explored through the parents, James and Marilyn, who came of age in the 60s and early 70s at the height of the sexual and civil rights revolutions. Even gay identity comes into play, and remember that this novel is set in 1977, not 2014.
I am compelled to praise the writing of this book. Both psychologically astute and poetic, it draws the reader into the story and evokes sympathy and awe. We see the devastating grief that overtakes each member of the family as he or she tries to see why Lydia died and what he or she may have done to prevent it. I also loved the way the author treated memory, that old deceiver, who smoothes out that which we cannot bear to recall.
I do not think this book is marketed as a YA novel, but it is certainly a book that parents and teenagers may profitably read and discuss together. The issues are fresh and relevant, and I can imagine that meaningful discussions and insights may result. Highly recommended for all readers 14 and above.
Everything I Never Told You is a story of secrets, of love, of longing, of lies, of race, of identity, and knowledge. The story begins with the death of Lydia, daughter of Marilyn and James, which is told in the first sentence and slowly revealed through the book. Her death drives the narrative, and yet, this story is bigger, grander than this central mystery. Marilyn wanted to defy society's narrow vision of her life and become a doctor, while James is trying to overcome humble beginnings and a society judging him based on his race. Together, they conventions, marry and create a family. Nathan, oldest son on his way to Harvard, Lydia, the middle sister and favorite one, and Hannah, truly growing up invisible. Together, Ng has created a complex, complicated family that rings so true on every page. There isn't a false note in the story.
Perhaps the power of this book lies in the writing of Ng. Her prose is lyrical and light, allowing you to float in the scenes, often between characters, as if you are a literary ghost spying on these people. She moves her story along when it needs to, and allows certain scenes to linger when needed. The effect is magnificent. She also embues the realities of racism, that appropriately jar the reader, which at first seem to be just a "matter of the times" (she painfully uses the word Oriental to describe people) but in reality plays a bigger role in the story. I appreciated it.
By the time you read the final page, you realize Ng has managed to create such a reality, and that when it ends, there is a sense of loss. Much like the family must deal with the loss of Lydia, we must deal with the loss of these imperfect and real people. This book reveals much, about them, about us, about our country, about our society. It is a book that begs for conversation, that begs to be discussed, interpreted, and argued over. It is a book that will be with you for a long time.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
I loved Ng's phraseology and use of language, and her metaphors are visual and sensory. She describes happiness as "fragile and if you were careless you could easily knock it over and shatter it." "His voice sliced through the glow like a blunt knife" and "In her mind, words ricocheted like glass marbles." Beautiful. The author's relationship with words was exceptional, and I loved the feeling of them on my tongue as I read.
Though Lydia was dead at the beginning (we are told that in the first sentence) she was certainly alive throughout the story. Near the end, she did, however, mention things about her father that happened after she died. James and Marilyn (the parents) were a little flat and single-dimensional. IMHO, not enough backgrouond information was given to account for their bizarre parenting or their other choices, like they were created only to tell this story. The children were products of their environment and likely destined to repeat the dysfunction. The devastation wreaked by the parents was dreadful, and I wished they had sorted things out better before the end. I was left unsettled, which the author likely did with purpose; it worked for me.
It surprised me that Everything I Never Told You was a debut novel. It was truly exceptional. For a fast read, it was insightful and had depth. Worth your time.
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