2015 Book #42 – Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Date finished: 5/5/15
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: June 26, 2014
Pages in book: 292
Stand alone or series: Stand alone

Blurb from the cover:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.
When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.
A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My rating: 4.25 stars out of a scale of 5

My review: This book will be counting towards my goal for the Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2015 checklist under the “a book that made you cry” check box because, well, it made me cry. I found this book to be quite moving. The story alternates between the views and memories of all 5 people in the Lee family, transitioning without causing too much confusion which was appreciated. We find out right from the first line of the book that “Lydia is dead,” Lydia being the older of the 2 daughters. As we delve deeper and deeper into the psyche of each member of the family before and after her death, including Lydia for the before, we come to our own conclusions about what may have happened to poor Lydia. Each member of the family has their own idea of what happened, but none of them ever find out what actually happened. And what actually happened is one of the biggest tragedies in the book, I think. Through the book we learn the reason why Lydia’s mom (Marilyn) is so hard on her and pushes her to do so well in school. Even more than that, we learn the reason why Lydia stomachs it. Every member of this family has a complicated and slightly twisted relationship with one another. Their fears drive them to do reckless and ultimately destructive things that cause the relationships within the family to crack long before Lydia’s death. The extreme sense of loss resulting from Lydia’s death causes the family structure to crumble.
There are a lot of relevant issues discussed in this novel, most importantly is that of ethnicity and how different someone can feel even if their just as American as the person standing next to them just because of their ethnicity. James (the dad) is Chinese and Marilyn is white. And actually, their marriage was apparently illegal during the time period at which the book was set (they would’ve been married in the mid to late 50’s I think). James has never felt like he fit it through his entire life. He knows how heart-wrenching it is to have no friends, just because your face looks a little different. The weird stares, the whispers, the giggles. The one thing he wants for his children is for them to fit in and be normal. Unfortunately he becomes a professor in a small college town in Ohio, where they are the only Oriental family.
And poor Hannah! (Who I will call Hanna Banana because she just desperately needs a nick name) She is forgotten about by her parents for most of the book, relegated to the lonely attic, removed from the rest of her family. All she wants is love and to feel like she’s a part of her family but no one ever pays attention to her. It was just heart breaking.
So obviously I liked this book. I thought it really dealt well with a large variety of issues: ethnicity, family pressures, death, loss, love, and life itself. It was moving and thoughful and I really enjoyed it.

The bottom line: I would recommend this book, it was full of tension and discussed some relevant issues

Link to author website
Click on the cover to go to the book’s Amazon page

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