Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: Book Review

FictionEverything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng, fiction
Released June, 2014

298 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Note: I read this book and wrote this review back in the summer, but for some reason didn’t post it. Amazon just named Everything I Never Told You the Best Book of 2014, which reminded me to get this review on the blog!

Plot Summary

When Lydia, the favorite teenage daughter of a Chinese-American family living in 1970’s Ohio, turns up dead, the family is forced to examine strains that have been lying just below the surface.

My Thoughts

I wanted to read Everything I Never Told You after seeing Shannon at River City Reading’s glowing review of this debut novel. Plus, I’ve had great luck with debuts this year (The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress, Black Chalk, Shotgun Lovesongs, We Are Not Ourselves)! I wouldn’t say I loved this book as much as Shannon did, but I did like it a lot, even though it turned out to be a bit different than I expected.

Given the book opens with this doozy, I was expecting a thriller focused on how and why Lydia is dead.

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

But, Everything I Never Told You is more a story of family dynamics with Lydia’s death as the catalyst forcing each member to examine themselves. It’s also a portrait of what it’s like to be immigrants (and a multi-racial family…dad James is Chinese and mom Marilyn is white) in a town where there is not any immigrant population to speak of. James is constantly trying to fit into this very traditional community, while Marilyn is trying to escape from the type of life she promised herself she would never lead. Children Nathan and Hannah are struggling to distinguish themselves in a household where Lydia had always been the shining star.

I was invested in the family dynamics angle of the story and felt incredibly sorry for the children dealing with the death of their sister more or less without the support of their parents. The themes of parents projecting their own dreams onto their children, families not openly talking about issues (i.e. pretending nothing is wrong), and foregone professional dreams of the stay-at-home mom are relatable and well explored in this story. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale in this respect.

Lydia’s death does provide good suspense, but not in a page-turning, thriller type way. Though it’s a quieter presence, I did want to know how and why Lydia died. Was it suicide? Was she murdered? Was it an accident? Was anyone else involved? Lydia’s death introduces the question of how well parents really know their children. Oddly enough, this issue seems to be a running theme in my recent reading (The Fever and Reconstructing Amelia)! Given I have two young children, it’s somewhat scary to think about the prospect of being on the parental end of this as they get older.

Though Everything I Never Told You turned out to be a different type of book than I was expecting, I very much enjoyed it and would agree with Shannon that it’s one of the better debuts of the year. It’s going on my Book Club Recommendations List and will make an appearance on a future “Great Books Under 300 Pages List” (coming in 2015).

You May Also Like:

The Fever by Megan Abbott

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  1. I’ve had much better luck than usual with debut novels this year, too. Adding this one to my list – thanks!

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  2. Glad to hear you liked it! I loved all the different layers the book explored and thought the writing was just wonderful.

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  3. Count me in with those who have read, and loved, this book! I loved the character development, and the book just flowed (even though it did go back and forth in time). Looking forward to what this author comes up with next.

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  4. I have heard this is a must read but have not got to it yet. I still hope to read it soon 🙂

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  5. Our book group discussed this book a couple of nights ago and had one of our best discussions ever. It’s a wonderful novel — one of my favorite debuts this year, second only to We Are Not Ourselves.

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  6. Jennine G. wrote:

    Hmmm…I will definitely have to look out for this one next year. And I have The Fever as well I think, so maybe I’ll read them back to back!

    Posted 11.21.14 Reply
  7. Cleo wrote:

    This is a book I really want to read. I prefer books with character development and some of the themes in this book seem similar to my recent read The Perfect Mother with the parents (in this case the mother) viewing their child through projection of their own hopes and dreams. This is definitely an addition to my TBR so I’m glad you posted this review.

    Posted 11.22.14 Reply
  8. Flo wrote:

    I usually don’t like debut novels but after reading your review I’m sold! It seems exactly like the type of books I love. *goes and adds it to her never-ending wishlist and sighs* 😉
    Thanks a lot for this discovery!

    Posted 12.1.14 Reply
  9. susan wrote:

    Yeah I’m amazed that Amazon picked it as the best book of 2014. I need to read it soon.

    Posted 12.4.14 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I thought it was one of the best debuts of 2014, but definitely not the overall best book of 2014.

      Posted 12.4.14 Reply
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