Monday, June 23, 2014

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Penguin Group: 6/26/2014
ebook, 304 pages

ISBN-13: 9781594205712

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 Thoughts:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a very highly recommended book about families, expectations, dreams, disappointments, favoritism, secrets, and cultural expectations.

It is the spring of 1977 in a small Ohio town when Everything I Never Told You opens with the information that Lydia is dead, although no one knows it yet. From this point on we meet all the members of the Lee family now and before; from when parents James and Marilyn meet, to the family dynamics between parents and children Nath (Nathan), Lydia, and Hannah, before and after Lydia is found dead.
The parents act out their frustration based on their high expectations for Lydia. After giving up her own dream to become a doctor, Marilyn has spent years grooming and doting on Lydia as the one who can fulfill Marilyn's expectations. Marilyn also wants to find someone to blame for her daughter's death. James wanted Lydia to be popular and fit in with her classmates, as he never was in school. But, during this time period as a lone family with their particular mixed interracial background (Chinese/American) all the children, as well as the family itself, stand out and are separate from their peers.

Nathan knows more about some of what Lydia was hiding than their parents, but he also has a lot of resentment he is working through based on how Lydia was favored and placed above her siblings. Hannah is very observant and in many ways wise above her years. She may be the one who could help the family overcome their overwhelming expectations - if she was ever given a chance or her thoughts considered. 

One should never lose a child, and, as can be the case, the loss may be the impetus for the unraveling of the whole family. All of the Lees are hiding something - feelings, secrets, resentments, disappointments - and all of it is buried deep. Normally, the secrets would never see the light of day, but with Lydia's death the many issues become clear and the truth exposed. 

It's hard to comment on such an exquisitely written, sensitive portrayal of a family coming apart after a terrible tragedy.  Ng's writing is simply incredible. She deftly handles and develops each of the characters slowly until the complete picture of Life in the Lee household and each individual's role in the family becomes clear. This is a novel that will exact an emotional toll but is well worth the price.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of the Penguin Group for review purposes.

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