Celeste Ng is an author I have heard a lot of great things about with her most recent novel Little Fires Everywhere being a book I have seen everywhere. And I recently picked up a copy of her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, which was originally published in 2014 to much acclaim.
Initially taking place in 1977, the story begins with the news that Lydia Lee has died. At this point it is not known whether Lydia’s tragic death was the result of a suicide or a murder, but what is clear from the start is the way her loss exposes the cracks within her family. Lydia is the daughter of Marilyn, an American college dropout, and James, a Chinese-American history professor, and the fact that Lydia is part of a mixed-race family is one of the factors which is explored throughout this book, as it examines the perceptions of the Lee family, both from within their home and beyond. It is a story that also explores the relationships between a child and their parents, as Marilyn and Lee are determined for Lydia to succeed in life, wishing their teenage daughter accomplish the things they were unable to do so. And in the wake of Lydia’s death it is something that is considered, as a family that have been torn apart try to piece themselves back together, and gain closure on the loss of their daughter, to find the truth about how she died.
Everything I Never Told You is a book that had me gripped, with the remaining mystery surrounding Lydia’s untimely death being only a small part of this story which really gets to the heart of a Chinese-American family living in small town Ohio. Beginning in 1977 the narrative switches back and forth through time, highlighting moments from the family’s past as we begin to build an image of the Lee family, the intricacies of their lives, and the way in which they desperately try to keep everything in balance. It is a story that explores the impact of parental and societies expectation on an individual, as well as looking at the impact of a child’s loss on their parents. Consumed with grief for their lost daughter, Marilyn and James’ marriage is put under incredible strain, and they are forced to face the challenges that have lurked within their household for years. As the family wait for the truth to come to the surface, we see the true extent of the family’s secrets and longings as this story of love, loss and race unfolds.
I enjoyed Everything I Never Told You and thought it was a well written crime story with a family and its secrets at its heart. I think I will be picking up a copy of Little Fires Everywhere soon to discover more of Celeste Ng’s writing.