Review: Everything I Never Told You

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.

celeste

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.

10 thoughts on “Review: Everything I Never Told You

  1. I’m glad you liked it. After reading your first paragraph, I thought you were going to say you didn’t. Phewf.
    The thing that got me about this book was how easy it was for the parents to assume everything was fine when it wasn’t. Ever since I read it, I’ve been paranoid about whether or not my own kids are as they seem. I’m pretty sure they are, but they’re also not that old yet. And then, once there was a tragedy in the family, the rest of them just fell completely apart, making me wonder what would happen to us if something terrible happened. I found it quite heart-breaking and worrisome. Which obviously means I loved it.

    • I wasn’t totally sure at first but the more I thought about it, the more I found to like about it. I wish I had gone into it not thinking that the mystery was the crux of it.
      And yeah, the fact that the parents had no idea was terrifying for me too and I have no children.

  2. I loved this one when I read it earlier in the year for my book group. But the story, surprisingly, didn’t stick with me, though reading your review was a nice reminder of why I liked the book so much: the story really captures what it is like to desperately want to fit in and to please others.

  3. I picked up this book knowing nothing about it. I sure wouldn’t have read it if I knew how heartbreaking it was, but I’m so glad I did. I reviewed it on my blog earlier in the fall.

  4. Pingback: Little Fires Everywhere is a marvel | The Paperback Princess

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