Summary and book reviews of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You

By Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2014,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
Everything I Never Told You

Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia's physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia's father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio's Best News Source, vexed by the crackles of static. On the stairs, Lydia's brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia's sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes, sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It's she who says, at last, "Lydia's taking a long time today."

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter's door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the relationships between Nath, Lydia, and Hannah. How do the siblings both understand and mystify one another?

  2. Why do you think Lydia is the favorite child of James and Marilyn? How does this pressure affect Lydia, and what kind of impact do you think it has on Nath and Hannah? Do you think it is more difficult for Lydia to be the favorite, or for Nath and Hannah, who are often overlooked by their parents?

  3. "So part of him wanted to tell Nath that he knew: what it was like to be teased, what it was like to never fit in. The other part of him wanted to shake his son, to slap him. To shape him into something different. . . . When Marilyn asked what happened, James said merely, with a wave of the hand, 'Some kids teased him ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The overall tone is elegiac as the author seamlessly weaves past and present, going back in time decades before Lydia's birth to uncover the factors in her parents' lives which ultimately contribute to Lydia's demise. Ng's prose is exceptionally perceptive; she realistically conveys her characters' inner motivations, dreams and disappointments, providing a rich understanding of what has brought them all to this particular juncture.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (1147 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Ng expertly explores and exposes the Lee family's secrets… These long-hidden, quietly explosive truths, weighted by issues of race and gender, slowly bubble to the surface of Ng's sensitive, absorbing novel and reverberate long after its final page.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ng's prose is precise and sensitive, her characters richly drawn.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Ng constructs a mesmerizing narrative that shrinks enormous issues of race, prejudice, identity, and gender into the miniaturist dynamics of a single family. A breathtaking triumph.

Booklist

Starred Review. Tantalizingly thrilling, Ng's emotionally complex debut novel captures the tension between cultures and generations with the deft touch of a seasoned writer. Ng will be one to watch.

Author Blurb Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones
Ng tells a story weighted by death and grief that is vital in all the essential ways; these characters betray and love blindly and are needy and accuse and forgive...At the same time, her story is also about what it means to live in two worlds at the same time, to be Asian and American, an insider and an outsider, and Ng writes about all this and more with terrific nuance.

Author Blurb Uwem Akpan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Say You're One of Them
The portrait of each member of the Lee family, the exploration of their mixed-race issues and the search for the killer of their sister and daughter, Lydia, pulled at my heartstrings to the very end.

Author Blurb Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply
Everything I Never Told You is a suspenseful and emotionally complex literary mystery novel, which, weaving back and forth in time, unlocks the secrets beneath the surface of family life. Celeste Ng has written a compellingly tense and moving first book.

Author Blurb Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane and A Disobedient Girl
Celeste Ng leavens the bridge between the disappearance of a young girl, and the personal histories that precede it, with the larger canvas issues of race and gender, without straying from the riveting emotional territory that make up the cornerstones of family: what is given, what is withheld, and what can never be known.

Reader Reviews
Diane S.

Everything I never told you
From the opening sentence, I could tell this was going to be a somewhat difficult read. In the fifties, mixed marriages were frowned on, not just black and white, but in this case Chinese and white. Marilyn had long wanted to be a doctor at a time ...   Read More

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Anti-Miscegenation Laws

According to the 2010 census, the number of mixed-race and mixed-ethnic couples in America grew by 28% from 2000 to 2010. At one time marrying outside one's race was considered, at best, controversial, but a 2007 Gallup poll cites 78% of Americans as approving of the practice. Such levels of acceptance were not always apparent, however, with state anti-miscegenation laws remaining on the books as late as 2000.

The term miscegenation, meaning the interbreeding of different racial types (irrespective of marriage status), was first coined by the American press in the 1860s, in articles countering the abolition of slavery. The implication was that a huge population boom of mixed-race children would occur without laws prohibiting the races ...

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