Book Reviews

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

  1. What would happen if you put a father whose only wish is to fit in, a mother regretting her own career sacrifice, a middle child who only says yes, a son obsessed with space and a youngest practically invisible younger daughter together?

Something inside her said, He understands. What it’s like to be different.

Everything I Never Told You starts with the death of the middle child and the whole remainder of the book is spent piecing together the puzzle pieces of why and how she died. It spends time examining the beginnings of the family with the mixed race parents who suffered from discrimination as a Chinese immigrant and as a woman, respectively. It then continues to the children’s appearance, their lives growing up and the sacrifices they make throughout the years that end in their grief over the loss of their family.

All those years of his daughter’s life unmarked. Nothing to explain anything.

There is a distinct reason I began my review not mentioning the death of the middle child. At the heart of this novel are the characters. At first, I disliked almost every one of them (except Hannah, the youngest because she seemed to be the most like me, at first). They would say such cruel things, or show favoritism to a child and it would make me so angry at them. I would wish to just slap them and ask them to be better people. But then I thought, that is too easy, why do I dislike them? What I found at the heart of my dislike was a sadness of their deep humanity, their abilities to make awful mistakes, to say hurtful things. I found that what truly disturbed me was how easily I could be in their shoes.

You don’t want this, she reminded herself. There will be more to your life than this.

The way they interact comes together slowly, unfurling their history languidly like a cat exposing their stomach to the sun. The family stretches, accommodates, and comes into its own: with all their flaws and inability to say the right thing. The characters that sometimes stick the longest with us are the ones we do not want to admit are us, or the ones we want to scream at. They are sometimes the ones we remember best.

Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy.

Besides the characters, the story reveals sad moment after sad moment, constantly trumping itself with heartbreak. At the end of the story, you leave with a sense that you have found out their secrets, and this is established with an in-depth and rotating perspective change between each family member. The merging of past and present allows a context that is unachievable in real life.

It would disappear forever from her memory of Lydia, the way memories of a lost loved one always smooth and simplify themselves, shedding complexities like scales.

I really enjoyed this book and its portrayal of being an ‘outsider’ or being Chinese American and a woman resonated with me. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys contemporary family drama novels, literature with Chinese American characters, and those who enjoy character psychology. As I sit reflecting on this book, I remember the character’s tragic flaws, their mistakes, and their journey back to each other. If you want to purchase yourself a copy you can do it here, add it to your goodreads, or visit the author”s website.

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If you liked this book, you may like Everything Belongs to Us.

7 thoughts on “Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

  1. I just finished Duels and Deception, and the main character’s name is also Lydia. What a coincidence. =) I’m very fond of culturally diverse books. I noticed that I tend to seek it out more these days. Though I haven’t had a chance to read Everything I Never Told You, your review has pique my interest and I will need to move it up my TBR.

  2. Wonderful review! I like that you pointed out that sometimes it is the unlikable characters that make a bigger impact on your reading experience than the ones we like. I really enjoyed the excerpts you chose to include, gives me a really feel for the writing.

    1. Yeah and for me, why I did not like them, was that they were so human and fallible. Which, I decided, was a good measure of characters. Because it’s easy to write characters we love and imagine we could or want to be. It’s hard to write compelling people which expose our own flaws.

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