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Everything I Never Told You Paperback – May 12, 2015
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An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Sweet Sorrow" by David Nicholls
"With fully fleshed-out characters, terrific dialogue, bountiful humor, and genuinely affecting scenes, this is really the full package of a rewarding, romantic read."—Booklist Learn more
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From the Publisher
“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.” —Entertainment Weekly
“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.” —Los Angeles Times
"Tender and merciless all at once...Vital in all the essential ways." — Jesmyn Ward
“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.” —Boston Globe
“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.” —Huffington Post
“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.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“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.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“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.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“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.” —Marie Claire
“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.” —Chris Schluep, Parade
“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.” —Kevin Nguyen, Grantland
“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.” — Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“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.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“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.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch
About the Author
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The family dynamics were amazing as it is for so many families. All that matters is love. Not what other people think that don't live in your world. Go do, do it now.
The book is about relationships and the effects on a father and his children of being visually different (here, Asian-American in a virtually all-white community). While they want to blend in and be accepted in society, his wife, an American, struggles to stand out as being different, and to impose that goal on her daughter.
Despite the primary focus on relationships and the effects of looking different than others (consequently, with a different life experience), the book flows as well as any mystery. There are plenty of flashbacks and fast-forwards, as well as action and thoughts in the present. Was the daughter murdered? Did she die in an accident or by suicide? How can they find the answers? What are the effects on the surviving members of the family? Why did all this happen?
The only part of the book that I did not find realistic was in the first chapter or two, when Lydia has disappeared and does not return. The description of the situation appeared to cover the logical bases—although with a delay in calling the police. But these beginning pages do not describe the terror, panic, helplessness, and frantic nature of the disappearance of a child. I write as someone who has had this same situation happen in my family to a daughter of the same age as Lydia (but with a happier ending).
Celeste Ng is an excellent writer, and I suspect that the decision to play down the emotions of this event at the beginning of the book results from her primary interests in describing the causes and effects of an event like this. She gives lots of attention to the event itself as the book goes on, and the ending can leave the reader with some questions that will never be answered, but with a good understanding of how family relationships and events can cause the event that happened in this book. It is a good lesson for all parents of children up through their teenage years.
Potentially, this book can save lives. Therefore, in addition to being a good story and a good read, it is an important book. It should appeal especially to anyone who is or feels different than virtually all other people in a community, but its application and appeal and interest is far broader. My family is all “white American”, yet I was engrossed by this book and wish that the book had been written and I had read it 30 years ago. It could have made a difference.
Top international reviews
It is a book about family, about the hopes and dreams of individuals both for themselves and others, about failure and success - and, unsurprisingly, given the title, about what what we don't say to eachother. I hope you enjoy getting to know the characters through the workings of their minds as much as I did. In my opinion this is worthy of the full 5 stars.
This is, without doubt, my best read of 2018.
Within the first few pages we know that Lydia, the blue eyed girl (literally), the prettier version of her Chinese father and American white mother is dead, drowned in the nearby lake. We then take a heck of a long time bobbing back and forth in time to try to work out why she died and what we might learn from her death. Sounds ok? Yeah, I hoped so but it wasn't. It was just a cold, over-polished, smarty-pants novel that seemed to lack any kind of heart.
The Lee family are misfits but their 'misfitnesses' are each different and somehow totally fail to bring them together. Mother Marilyn is one of the most disappointed characters I've read in a long time, deeply saddened by her own poor choices and her determination not to accept the conventional 'wife and mother' role society forced on her. Father James is the son of two poor Chinese people who worked at a school to get him a good education but subsequently left him picked on both for his race and his poverty. And their three children are each socially inept and unable to make friends inside or outside the family. Lydia is the 'favourite' and carries the hopes and dreams of both her parents and that brings challenges for all the family.
I really don't reject this genre of dysfunctional families at all. A couple of times a year I like to sink into an Anne Tyler novel. I know what I'll get - a complicated but ultimately warm and loving family saga about small town America and the mistakes people make. More and more I'm finding other people writing Anne Tyler - whether intentionally or accidentally, and they never seem to do it as well as she does (obviously). Sometimes even Tyler's books get a bit dull and boring.
'Everything I Never Told You' is a classic 'Tyler-alike'. Take a Tyler family and make them mixed race remove anything in the way of plot development and you've got this book.
The biggest problem is that nothing much ever happens. There are no twist and turns. There is no mystery. The only mystery to me is why this book is SO popular. It seems it's a 'Book Club Favourite'. I'm taking that accolade on board now as a clear sign that I should probably step away from the bookshelf and go read something else.
Sixteen year-old Lydia Lee is the middle of three mixed-race siblings. From an early age, she has borne the weight of her parents’ conflicting expectations: that she should ‘fit in’, in a way her Chinese father James has never been able to do, and that she should ‘stand out’, by taking on the lost aspirations of her American mother Marilyn. When Lydia drowns in a suspected suicide, the whole family is thrown into conflict and must confront some uncomfortable truths.
In examining the horrible damage that parents unwittingly inflict on their children, Ng tackles some truly difficult themes. While the story is rooted in racial and gender inequality, most readers will identify with the kind of family dynamics where one child is favoured over another; where pushy parents make unreasonable demands; or where siblings close ranks against their parents. The real tragedy of the Lee’s story - and one that Ng depicts so vividly - is that it could happen to anyone.
Without exception, Ng’s characters are complex, engaging and relatable. They quickly spring to life as people with recogniseable desires and frustrations; with weaknesses, fears and vulnerabilities. As a reader, you empathize with them and genuinely care what becomes of them. My heart ached for all of them, but especially for poor Lydia, whose blue eyes, in defiance of her dominant Asian genes, make her the perfect repository for her parents’ dreams.
I also have to compliment Ng on a clever and engrossing structure, which jumps back and forth between the time before Lydia’s death and the time after. The easy option would have been a linear structure, with the drowning somewhere in the middle, but this would have seriously watered down the emotional intensity of the plot.
All in all, a well-deserved five-star read.
Thanks for reading my review. I hope you found it helpful.
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In fact this turns out to be a surprisingly nuanced and well-written family drama / thriller that examines the varied issues faced in an interracial marriage, the heavy price of being different and the uphill battle of trying to but never quite fitting in. But it is so much more than all that because Ng, as a debut author, is admirably adept at facing these issues head-on without descending into trite stereotypes and hastily pastiched characters. Instead each member of the Lee family at the heart of this novel is fully fleshed out with incisive strokes, each with a compelling backstory that leads backwards from the tragic inciting event that opens the novel, and we brave the journey with them, trying to find out who killed Lydia from their composite narratives, and ultimately reaching a heart-wrenching and haunting conclusion.
This is shallow, boring, poorly written and extremely predictable
It makes me a bit cross to think this standard of writing wins lots of prizes
Didn't help that I read it straight after "We need to talk about Kevin" which is a masterpiece
Perhaps I should have persevered but life is too short and there are better books out there.
Two parents, both of whom had unhappy upbringings, go on to have three children and consistently neglect their needs in a variety of ways.
It's quite depressing reading, and at points a little far fetched. Is it really likely that not one of the five main characters has a single friend?
The story is very slow, meandering back and forth in a way that for me, frustrated rather than propelled the story. I have not yet finished it and I'm not hugely enthused about having to plough through another 80 miserable pages in order to do so. If I manage to, I'll update this review, after I've given myself a large pat on the back for effort.
Well reader, I persevered. Nothing changed. Such a miserable bunch of emotionally stunted characters I shall hope never to encounter again. The End.