Book Report: “Everything I Never Told You A Novel” By: Celeste Ng


“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


‘In reality, it was only a few seconds before Nath jumped into the water. He ducked under, grabbed Lydia’s arm, pulled her to the surface, pedaling furiously.

Kick, he gasped. Kick.  Kick.

They floundered their way to the edge of the lake, moving slowly toward the shallows until their feet hit the sandy bottom and they lurched aground. Nath wiped mud from their eyes.  Lydia vomited a mouthful of lake water into the grass.  For a minute, two, three, they lay face down, catching their breath.  Then Nath pushed himself to his feet, and to his surprise, Lydia reached up to clutch his hand.  Don’t let go, she meant, and, dizzy with gratitude, Nath gave it.

They trudge home in silence, making damp sludge’s on the sidewalk. Except for Mrs. Allen’s snores, there was no noise but the sound of water dripping from their clothes to the linoleum.  They had been gone only twenty minutes, but it felt as though eons had passed.  Quietly they tiptoed upstairs and hid their wet clothes in the hamper and put on dry, and when their parents returned with suitcases and boxes of books, they said nothing.  When their mother complained about the water spots on the floor, Nath said he had spilled a drink.  At bedtime, Nath and Lydia brushed their teeth sociably at the sink, taking turns to spot, saying goodnight as if it were any other night,  it was too big to talk about, what had happened.  It was like a landscape they could not see all at once; it was like the sky at night, which turned so they couldn’t find its edges.  It would always feel too big.  He pushed her in.  And then he pulled her out.  All her life, Lydia would remember one thing.  All his life, Nath would remember another.’

“Everything I Never Told You A Novel” by Celeste Ng is one of those books that you need to pay deep attention to. Put your phone down, turn off the background music and soak in all of the fine tuning.  Ng takes the reader into a family riddled with secret layers and relationships so tightly intertwined that you are left wondering why Ng is revealing content in specific moments within “Everything I Never Told You A Novel”.  It is a true stitching the ‘clues’ together novel.

The authentic voice that Ng has penned in “Everything I Never Told You A Novel” reveals the life of a mixed race Asian American family in the 1970’s. It is a vivid, laden with gorgeous snapshots of confusion, conflict and far reaching historical insecurities.  Like a well-designed portrait, “Everything I Never Told You A Novel”  blends the darkness and the lightness together so seamlessly you need to take time to splinter the devious versus the innocent moments shared between the characters.

“Everything I Never Told You A Novel” could make an excellent case study on family dynamics and the eccentricities of how the breakdown of the family unit affects each member. We look at how grief can additionally paralyze members while also paralleling moments of unexpected growth.

Ng’s writing paints beautifully vivid characterization within a landscape that one cannot help but think about days after completing “Everything I Never Told You A Novel”.  It is a gorgeous read.

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