Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: "Everything I Never Told You" by Celeste Ng

"Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet."

The Lydia in question is Lydia Lee, a teenager growing up in the Ohio suburbs of the late 1970s. A hybrid of her parents, with her Chinese father's black hair and her American mother's blue eyes, she has always stood out—particularly when all she wanted to do was fit in. Despite being the middle child, she is the one bearing all of her parents' expectations—her mother's desires that Lydia pursue the medical career she wasn't able to, and her father's wishes that she be popular, affable, and charming.

Lydia's death lays bare fissures between and among each remaining member of her family. Her parents' relationship wearies under the strain of grief, regrets, and the pressure of being an ethnically mixed couple in a world not quite ready to accept them. Lydia's older brother, Nath (short for Nathan), is desperate for his parents to recognize his achievements, yet they leave him to chart his own course, and he wonders if his attitude toward his sister in the last few days of her life had any impact on her death. And Hannah, the youngest daughter, all but forgotten in the haze, but she sees and notices more than anyone realizes, and is desperate to share her love and her thoughts with her family.

This is a sad book even without Lydia's death at its core. This is a book about all of the secrets, resentments, fears, hopes, regrets, and wishes we leave unsaid, and the toll they all take on our lives. It's amazing to realize how giving voice to one feeling, one irritation, one fear can truly change the course of a life, but all too often, they remain unspoken. It's also a book about the need to be the person you want to be, because if you allow someone else to mold you into something you don't want to be, you will lose yourself.

Everything I Never Told You is beautifully written and poignant, but because of all of the things left unspoken, it was a little frustrating at times, much like real life. The book spans through the early days of Lydia's parents' relationship to the aftermath of her death, and points to future events as well. All I kept thinking as I read the book was, "How sad." This is a tragic book, but not a maudlin one, and Celeste Ng's writing is poetically lyrical.

1 comment:

  1. I will always wonder how the author wrote such a sad commentary on family life while still proclaiming (in her acknowledgements) how happy her own family makes her. This dichotomy makes me think she is either an amazing author or a great pretender. In any case, she has produced a novel that grips the heart. I look forward to weeping over her next book!