Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
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.
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.