Sunday, 7 January 2018

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
First published in America by Penguin in 2014.

Where to buy this book:


How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; 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 centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest in the family - Hannah - who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.

Everything I Never Told You is marketed, on its cover at least, as being similar to The Lovely Bones and I think that does this book a disservice. Yes, both are set in the 1970s and the catalyst for both storylines is the death of a girl, but that could apply to dozens of books. Everything I Never Told You is an exploration of family relationships and tensions in a biracial household where two generations of wanting the best for their children has spectacularly backfired.

Marilyn, a white American woman, longed to be a doctor despite her mother's intention that she conform to perfect 1950s housewife ideals. Ng quotes from a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook whose guidelines for a happy home were hilarious until I remembered that they were meant as serious advice. Thank goodness the society in which I live now allows women the right to choose or refuse that lifestyle! Marrying a Chinese-American man, James, allows Marilyn to defy her mother, but also ends up with her losing her dreamed-for medical career. Instead, and unable to see the irony, she foists that ideal of perfect happiness onto her eldest daughter, Lydia. Lydia dutifully strives to make herself into the woman Marilyn obsessively pushes her to be, and when her body is discovered drowned in a nearby lake, the loss tears her family apart.

Several issues are carefully and cleverly interwoven to make this an interesting novel to think over and discuss after it is finished. The shocking casual racism is a reminder of how we can still recoil from people who display differences. And James's constant need to fit in clearly illustrates the effect such behaviour has on its victims. Most important though, I think, is the message that our dreams are just that. Ours. And, even with the best of intentions, foisting our own life goals onto others is rarely the best solution for them.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Celeste Ng / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

6 comments:

  1. Lovely review! I am very curious about this book, it sounds very intriguing :)

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    1. I hope you get to read it, I thought it very good.
      Thank you for visiting!

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  2. This was an *amazing* book, I loved it so much. It seems a simple story on the surface, but wow there are so many layers underneath! And that ending....

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    1. Yes, I was impressed! So much more to this book than I expected :-)

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  3. I have read The Lovely Bones but will be sure to put that out of mind when I read this one. I did like the classic but not an overwhelming amount. It sounds like this one is beautiful and layered, and has a lot for a reader to take away from it... This one is going on my TBR for sure!

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    1. I think this is one you'll particularly enjoy :-)

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