Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng

Publication date: 2018
Publisher: Abacus (first published June 26th 2014)
Pages: 292


Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Source: Goodreads


I’ve not read anything by author Celeste Ng before, but have seen great things about another of her books, “Little Fires Everywhere“. I’d not heard of “Everything I Never Told You” but it’s been nominated for quite a few prizes and at a bargain price, I couldn’t resist.

In the opening chapters, Lydia Lee has gone missing. When she doesn’t come downstairs for breakfast one morning, her family can’t work out where she has gone, until one day the police find her body at the bottom of a nearby lake.

After this opening, I went into the book expecting a gripping mystery or thriller, hoping to follow along like a detective solving the case, but this book really is not like that at all. Instead, “Everything I Never Told You” is more of a family drama, a character study and comprehensive look at the lives of the Lee family.

The Lee family are Chinese American and one of the only non-white families living in Ohio during the 70s. Lydia’s death is the central story and around this Ng explores the intricate details of this family, their relationships, their expectations and the struggles they face on a daily basis.

Parts of this book were compelling and enjoyable, but unfortunately I found much of this study to be slow moving, serious and a little depressing. I also found it tricky to feel for these characters at times. Some of their thoughts and actions didn’t really make any sense to me and I think that because I was expecting something different, I was left disappointed, especially by the anticlimactic ending.

Overall rating: Despite enjoying some parts of this story of an inter-racial family in the seventies, I found most of it to be slow moving and really not that interesting. “Everything I Never Told You” seems to be well reviewed by others, but unfortunately isn’t going to win any awards in my books – 2 stars.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

  1. I totally get where you’re coming from with this review – however it’s by far one of my favourite reading experiences of this year. It’s definitely very ‘literary’ rather than a conventional thriller and I often find them to focus on everyday realities which can be a bit depressing like you said. I dunno, I 100% understand why this divides people though! Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I definitely think you should revisit it in the future but my god is it irritating to expect a thriller and be greeted by a literary novel 😂 Has happened to me countless times and it just never works when it’s unexpected – if you picked up a book it’s because that’s what you were in the mood to read but if its entirely different to what you thought it kind of defeats mood reading 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So funny you just reviewed this as I’m about to review her other novel, Little Fires Everywhere. If it is similar to her other novel in style, which it sounds like it is, I would actually enjoy it. I think expectations can make or break something for sure though and can totally see where you’re coming from.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Book sisters! I have read both of them and they were both nice summer reading books but nothing spectacular. To me, Little Fires Everywhere was very predictable so I ended up scanning the pages just to get to the end of the book. But it is interesting how the book describes different mother-daughter relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

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