Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng

Genre: Fiction
Synopsis: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. 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.


Review: Even if this was not a debut novel, it would be a remarkable read; the fact that it is only lends further credit to this talented author. This is not a crime thriller or mystery, but rather a dramatic tale of longing for missed chances, the pressure of expectation and the isolating nature of unshared secrets. Set in the context of 1970s Ohio, the Lee parents struggle against the racial prejudices of their time to become the things they want to be, to be seen as successful and normal, and if nothing else, to acquire those things for their children. As a story about domestic turmoil, this novel is beautifully written and exceptionally evocative.

I liked the fact that the very first sentence tells you that Lydia is dead, it removes any element of surprise or mystery and instead says, 'okay, this is what happened, now let's talk about why.' Each character gradually weaves the threads of their perspective into the complex whole vision of the Lee family, ultimately revealing what exactly happened to Lydia. The story moves along at a gentle pace, encouraging you to really get wrapped up in the delicate writing. I liked all of the characters in the story, and enjoyed learning about the complicated twists and turns their lives took in order to end up at this tragic conclusion; although I would have liked to see more from Jack. That said, while the characters didn't lack depth, their depiction lacked a little imagination. I felt that the author depicted the 'type' and 'aim' of each parent, particularly, (see synopsis) so strongly that it became a tad cartoonish - it felt somewhat unlikely that such overt intentions would manage to remain unaddressed for so long.

Regardless, the emotions expressed by each character are the driving force behind all of the actions and consequences throughout the novel, and they felt real. Anything that might be lacking in imagination is absolutely made up for with heartfelt emotion and immersive writing. Highly recommended read.

Rating: 4/5

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