“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know it yet.” So begins Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng.
Was it murder? Was it suicide? Or was it something else? The reader spends most of the novel thinking one thing, only to be surprised at the end with the truth. Yet, the book is more than a thriller. It is a family drama of exceptional insight with beautiful plotting and beautiful writing. By no means a ” feel good” story, it is nevertheless a book that leaves you thinking long after you put it down.
The year is 1977, the setting, a quiet all-American town in Ohio, where everyone knows one another and nothing like this has ever happened before. While the crime drives the narrative, each family member becomes more real as layers of their character are peeled back: James, the Chinese father, who has felt defined by racial stereotypes all his life; Marilyn, the Caucasian mother, whose dreams of being a doctor were shelved by the demands of marriage, family, and the times; Nathan, the older brother, whose brilliance is overlooked; Lydia, the golden child burdened with all the frustrated aspirations of her parents; and Hannah the overlooked child, a silent but keen observer of everyone in her family.
Ng creates people who are trying to do the right thing from their own perspective, and their conflicts come about because they don’t realize that situations look completely different to someone else. Although the characters are all flawed, they are presented in a nonjudgmental way that lets the reader care about their struggles and their sincerity.
Things I Never Told You moves gracefully back and forth in time, into the aftermath of the tragedy as well as the distant past, and into the consciousness of each member of the family, creating a series of mysteries and revelations that lead back to the original question: what happened to Lydia?
What did you think about this month’s book? All comments are welcomed and appreciated!