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Everything I Never Told You Paperback – May 12, 2015
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Alexander Chee, The New York Times Book Review:
“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now… Ng has set two tasks in this novel’s doubled heart—to be exciting, and to tell a story bigger than whatever is behind the crime. She does both by turning the nest of familial resentments into at least four smaller, prickly mysteries full of secrets the family members won’t share… What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind—a burden you do not always survive.”
Los Angeles Times:
“Excellent…an accomplished debut… heart-wrenching…Ng deftly pulls together the strands of this complex, multigenerational novel. Everything I Never Told You is an engaging work that casts a powerful light on the secrets that have kept an American family together—and that finally end up tearing it apart.”
“Wonderfully moving…Emotionally precise…A beautifully crafted study of dysfunction and grief…[This book] will resonate with anyone who has ever had a family drama.”
San Francisco Chronicle:
“A subtle meditation on gender, race and the weight of one generation’s unfulfilled ambitions upon the shoulders—and in the heads—of the next… Ng deftly and convincingly illustrates the degree to which some miscommunications can never quite be rectified.”
O, The Oprah Magazine:
“Cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive… Ng sensitively dramatizes issues of gender and race that lie at the heart of the story… Ng’s themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense.”
Los Angeles Review of Books:
“Ng moves gracefully back and forth in time, into the aftermath of the tragedy as well as the distant past, and into the consciousness of each member of the family, creating a series of mysteries and revelations that lead back to the original question: what happened to Lydia?...Ng is masterful in her use of the omniscient narrator, achieving both a historical distance and visceral intimacy with each character’s struggles and failures…On the surface, Ng’s storylines are nothing new. There is a mysterious death, a family pulled apart by misunderstanding and grief, a struggle to fit into the norms of society, yet in the weaving of these threads she creates a work of ambitious complexity. In the end, this novel movingly portrays the burden of difference at a time when difference had no cultural value…Compelling.”
“Both a propulsive mystery and a profound examination of a mixed-race family, Ng’s explosive debut chronicles the plight of Marilyn and James Lee after their favored daughter is found dead in a lake.”
“The mysterious circumstances of 16-year-old Lydia Lee’s tragic death have her loved ones wondering how, exactly, she spent her free time. This ghostly debut novel calls to mind The Lovely Bones.”
“A powerhouse of a debut novel, a literary mystery crafted out of shimmering prose and precise, painful observation about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging… Ng’s novel grips readers from page one with the hope of unraveling the mystery behind Lydia’s death—and boy does it deliver, on every front.”
Chris Schluep, Parade:
“The first chapter of Celeste Ng’s debut novel is difficult—the oldest daughter in a family is dead—but what follows is a brilliantly written, surprisingly uplifting exploration of striving in the face of alienation and of the secrets we keep from others. This could be my favorite novel of the year.”
Kevin Nguyen, Grantland:
“The emotional core of Celeste Ng’s debut is what sets it apart. The different ways in which the Lee family handles Lydia’s death create internal friction, and most impressive is the way Ng handles racial politics. With a deft hand, she loads and unpacks the implications of being the only Chinese American family in a small town in Ohio.”
“Beautiful and poignant…. deftly drawn….It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel for Celeste Ng. She tackles the themes of family dynamics, gender and racial stereotyping, and the weight of expectations, all with insight made more powerful through understatement. She has an exact, sophisticated touch with her prose. The sentences are straightforward. She evokes emotions through devastatingly detailed observations.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“Perceptive…a skillful and moving portrayal of a family in pain…It is to Ng’s credit that it is sometimes difficult for the reader to keep going; the pain and unhappiness is palpable. But it is true to the Lees, and Ng tells all.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
“Impressive… In its evocation of a time and place and society largely gone but hardly forgotten, Everything I Never Told You tells much that today’s reader should learn, ponder and appreciate.”
Amanda Nelson, Book Riot:
“On the surface, this is about a mixed-race Asian-American family dealing with and trying to solve the mysterious death of their favorite teenaged daughter in ‘70s Ohio (this isn’t a spoiler, it happens in the first sentence). What it’s really about all the ways we can be an ‘other’—in society, in our own marriages, in our jobs, and to our parents or children. It’s also about pressure—the pressure to be with people who are like ourselves, and to fit in, and to be everything our parents want us to be. It’s about giving up your career to become a wife and mother, and what that means and doesn’t mean. It’s about dealing with prejudice. It’s about secrets and happiness and misery, and all the things we never tell the people we love. It’s about everything, is what I’m saying, and not a single word is wasted or superfluous.”
About the Author
CELESTE NG grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. She is the author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.
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I am grateful my book club chose this book for February so that I finally prioritized reading it. I think it will lend itself to a great discussion and the author's notes at the end provide a lot of insight into how it was written and her inspiration. I highly recommend this one.
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.
At the beginning of the story a teenage girl – Lydia - dies. From there the novel skips from past to present, developing all the characters and describing their history leading to the tragic event. Celeste Ng gradually reveals the conflicts and secrets in Lydia’s family, but also their fears, dreams and hopes, showing slowly that although on the surface they seem so close to one another, they in fact do not know each other at all.
Ng shows not only the importance of voicing what is important to us, but also the consequences of not doing it. All the characters are well developed and vibrant.
I absolutely loved this book, and felt so emotionally pulled toward it, I could not put it down. It definitely earned the place on the shelf of books that one day I will dearly recommend to my daughters. For the time being I bought a copy for my mom and recommended the book to friends.
My only disappointment was that it finished so fast. I cannot wait for the other, already bought book by Celeste Ng to be delivered to me.