Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve had Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng on my TBR List since it first came out. Everyone that read this book told me that it was devastating and I was prepared to be shattered and sobbing by the time I was finished.
Lydia, the middle child of James and Marilyn Lee, is dead. We know this from the first line and we spend the rest of the 290 pages trying to find out what happened while her parents and siblings, older brother Nathan, Harvard-bound and younger sister Hannah, ever watchful, try not to fall apart.
We are taken right back to the beginning when James and Marilyn meet. James, a Chinese-American professor trying his very best just to be like everyone else, and Marilyn, a science student, trying her very best to be different from her peers, meet at school and jump into an unlikely courtship that ends up in their marrying, very much against the wishes of Marilyn’s mother. Marilyn gives up school and her dreams of becoming a doctor so that she can stay home and look after their children, first Nathan and later Lydia and Hannah.
Lydia’s death becomes almost secondary as we find out the family secrets and learn that there is always more to the story than you can see at first glance. We don’t really learn who Lydia was until near the end – it’s much more about the perceptions that her family have of her. Her mother thinks that Lydia is a star science student, and her father think she has a bunch of close friends and fits in despite being the only “Oriental” girl in the school. Her brother Nathan is the only one that has any real sense of who she was and he’s loathe to share this knowledge.
What emerges is a tragic portrait of a girl trying to live up to her family’s expectations of her. I was quietly devastated by her family’s inability to see Lydia for who she was. There was no messy sobbing from me but I was kind of haunted by Lydia and frustrated by her parents’ refusal to let Lydia be Lydia.
I was surprised by the literary style of this one. Its paperback packaging is deceptive – it doesn’t look like the kind of heavyweight book that can wreak some serious havoc on your feelings but that’s exactly what it is. If you haven’t already read this and you like books that paint a portrait of a family in distress, with some mystery thrown in for good measure, you’re going to like this one.