Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng / ★★★★★
Summary: Lydia is dead. She is the favorite child of the Lee family, a mix-raced Chinese American family living in 1970s Ohio, and as the causes of her death unravel, the family tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.
Up there – eighty-five miles high, ninety, ninety-five, the counter said – everything on earth would be invisible. Mothers who disappeared, fathers who didn’t love you, kids who mocked you – everything would shrink to pinpoints and vanish. Up there: nothing but stars.
This book UNDID me. It was so beautiful and sad and eloquently done, and while the premise is intriguing and sad, it’s the exploration of characters that really unwinds you. It’s a relatively short book, and yet Ng managed to take full hold of my heart and make me feel for this family before I hardly knew them, and by the end I was in shambles. The book opens with the knowledge of Lydia’s death, and alternates between past and present as the causes leading up to it unravel. It is done so smoothly and flawlessly it had me tearing up before I was even halfway through the book.
The story explores each different member of the family, their personal lives and their relationships with Lydia and with each other, and the effects of familial pressures, favoritism, prejudices, and social constructs. The way Ng wove back and forth in the timeline of events was flawless, and I loved how everything came together and came to light. This book is so sad and beautiful and I wish I could read it all over again for the first time.
Character is where Ng really grabs me by the heart. None of her characters are perfect- in fact, they’re all painfully, heartrendingly flawed. And whether I like them or not, Ng makes me care about them and want what’s best for them, and every main character in this book chafed my heart in some way. I loved getting to know them through the skewed timeline, which revealed their faults and their brokenness their goodnesses all out of order, which I thought was brilliant. Some I liked before I disliked, and some I disliked before I liked. This style, and the story, formed beautifully rounded characters.
The relationships between the characters in the family are what made this book for me. I loved how the relationships between the various members of the Lee family were explored throughout the different stages of the story- whether it be between siblings, or sibling/parent, or both parents. The tensions and pressures of self-identity vs. public identity vs. cultural identity were done so thoroughly and wound so intricately in each of the characters. I loved the exploration of motherhood in this book – what a woman wants for herself, what she wants for her children, and what was expected of her, especially in a 1970s suburban setting. And I loved the relationships between the children- Lydia’s relationship with her brother, Nath, and the quiet observations of her little sister, Hannah, pained me in such a fantastic way. I love the characters so much it’s made it hard for me to become invested in characters in the book I picked up next, because I missed these ones.
Ng has such a gorgeous, fluid writing style. The way she weaves back and forth in time, in tense, in point of view astounds me. Ng has such a way of nailing emotions with littles phrases and intricacies that pain my word-loving heart in the very best way.
Was I satisfied?
I loved this book. I read it on an overnight airplane flight and cried sitting between two strangers, and then spent the last hour of my flight just thinking about it. It’s one of those books I wish I could erase my memory of so I can read it all over again, which is something I rarely say about sad books.