Wednesday 26 November 2014

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; 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 centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.
When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest in the family - Hannah - who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.
Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page-turner, about secrets, love, longing, lies and race.

Everything I Never Told You was published in the UK by Blackfriars on 13 November 2014, and is Celeste Ng's debut novel.

Ohio in the 1970s is not an easy place to grow up, especially if your father is Chinese and your mother is a blond haired all-American. Being the favourite child, and being given the responsibility of making the hopes and dreams of your parents come true is pretty difficult too.

Lydia Lee, the middle child of James and Marilyn Lee knows all of this. She knows that she must fulfil everyone's expectations, she knows that she is the favourite, she knows that she has to do everything she possibly can to appear popular, liked .... to be normal.

When Lydia's body is pulled from local lake the future of the Lee family is threatened. This already fragile family, held together with hopes and dreams, secrets and lies, shatters completely. James and Marilyn, as parents, find blame in each other and guilt in themselves. Older brother Nathan is determined to prove that Jack, a local boy has more to do with the tragedy than people realise and younger sister Hannah observes their behaviour, quietly taking it all in and knowing deep down inside just what happened to Lydia.

Celeste Ng's writing is calm and soothing, she doesn't use shock tactics, or hysteria. Her story is crafted perfectly, with a sensitivity that is quite mesmerising. As the reader learns more and more about the hidden secrets of the Lee family, their true identities are revealed.

Issues of racial tension are at the forefront, along with gender inequality and the expectation of parents. The careless cruelty of parents who love too much is a central theme, and for me, the treatment of all the children by their parents was central to the plot and indeed, to the outcome of the story.

Everything I Never Told You is a wonderfully perceptive debut novel, written with authority and passion. This book has been voted the No 1 Book of the Year 2014 by, and I can really understand why. It really is a beautifully written book.

My thanks to the publisher, Blackfriars, who sent my copy for review.

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You  (June 2014, Penguin Press). 
She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. 
Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.  Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.
Currently she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son, where she teaches fiction writing at Grub Street and is at work on a second novel and a collection of short stories.
For more information about Celeste Ng, visit her website
Visit her Facebook Author Page   Follow her on Twitter @pronounced_ng


  1. Thanks for sharing your review Anne, now on the wishlist!

  2. Though this particular story takes place in the late 1970s, it could really take place anytime and anywhere. The parents could be of any race or nationality or gender, the children could be of any age. Hiding hurt feelings is universal. Living and abiding by parental expectations and promises transcends time. Characters will definitely be able to identify people from their own lives in this book. So sad, so quiet, so painful, and yet so beautiful.