Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .
So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.
Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, is not a feel-good story or one to make you smile. The story line is ripe with regrets, disappointments, darkness, sadness, grief, and loss.
Ng establishes right away her central characters: James, Chinese and Marilyn, American couple with three children: Nathan, Lydia, and Hannah. James and Marilyn have expectations for their children. Expectations it seems to live out the hopes and dreams James and Marilyn never realized.
The story line centers around Lydia’s death and the family’s various ways of coping with her disappearance and loss. Yet, Ng has written a more complex story than this–a complex story of interracial marriage, racial tensions, disappointment, regret, hope, and a faltering family dynamic. Not to mention each family member’s individual demons.
Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You is dark, mysterious, complex, sad. Yet, there is a lesson to be learned here if you can find your way through all its twists and turns and the darkness. Ng’s writing style kept me reading. She has a gift for developing plot, characters, and creating story arc that keeps her reader turning the pages. If you are reminiscent of the 1970s or want to experience them as they were, pick up a copy of Everything I Never Told You.