Reviewed by Kristin
Celeste Ng likes to start her books with a bang. In Everything I Never Told You, the reader immediately finds out that sixteen-year-old Lydia is dead. But how? And more importantly, why?
In 1970s small town Ohio, a Chinese-American “mixed marriage” is rather unusual. Marilyn met James Lee while she was a student in his graduate seminar, immediately fell in love with him, and quickly gave up her dreams of becoming a physician. Soon enough baby Nathan came along, then Lydia, and several years later—Hannah. James and Marilyn have high hopes for Lydia; both hope to see her succeed in ways neither of them ever did. James wants Lydia to be a social butterfly, liked by everyone. Marilyn desperately wants her eldest daughter to fill her own vacated shoes academically. Lydia wants to be her own person, but has difficulties reconciling her own desires with her parents’ expectations.
When Lydia’s body is discovered in a neighborhood lake, suddenly all that everyone thought they knew loses all meaning.
The narrative reveals the story almost in reverse, with an intricately plotted storyline swooping through various twists and turns. As pieces of Lydia’s life are revealed, the tension intensifies. Ng explores the relationships between the characters, both within the Lee family and with others in the community, and a very different picture of Lydia begins to emerge.
Who really knew Lydia? Her mother, Marilyn? Her adored brother, Nathan? Her friend, Jack?
The loss of any child is heartbreaking, but the fact that Lydia was so misunderstood makes her death especially tragic. As each family member reacts to Lydia’s death, family dynamics are torn apart and must reform in new and unfamiliar ways.