Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng

The middle third of this book gripped me so hard I both didn't want to stop reading and had to take breaks because it was so emotionally intense. I enjoyed the book from the start but felt like I wouldn't love it--then I reached the portion where we start getting the perspective of Lydia, the dead daughter.


A strength of this novel is the fine portrait of family dynamics and how one event and even one moment can change everything. On top of that, we get to see the particular dynamics of a mixed race family: a white mother, Chinese American father, and mixed children (who of course read as Asian American). Near the beginning of the book, I remember thinking about how much it hadn't occurred to me that there might be the same "rules" (and, literally, laws) regarding Asian Americans as African Americans (e.g. not marrying and reproducing with someone of a different race). I suppose it's because, through my white eyes, this country feels so focused on the wrongs done to black people. This book demonstrates how difference--wanting and rejecting it--shapes a family. How race and identity shape each of us.


Another strength I admired is the structure of the novel, which is carefully arranged, clear but subtle in revealing details about the family and what happened to Lydia (and why). I thought repeatedly of an onion unpeeling itself, layers saved for later. We get perspectives from all the family members, and shift back and forth in time. It's never confusing, and I didn't find myself wishing to return to some pov's over others as I do with some novels. You ache for everyone, get frustrated with everyone. I recognized my own role in my family in some way: it can be a delicate balance.


The first third was okay, the middle and toward the end fantastic, but it lost me again somewhat in the very end. The explanation for what happened to Lydia gave me mixed feelings: I was glad she was strong enough to reach the conclusions she did, but it's hard for me to buy that she would think she could suddenly swim on her own. I appreciated that the novel was ultimately hopeful but found some of the language on the cliche side.


This book certainly wrenched at my heart (in a good way), and I'm glad to have read it.