Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

Soft and almost romantic in the way its written, I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to come across this author. On everyone’s lips a couple years ago, I must have been under a rock, this book has received so much praise. Based on the idea of otherness and the feelings we feel and keep buried deep, even to those nearest to us and pain that it carries over the years. This month on the blog, we feature Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, read the review below.

Synopsis:

The story of a family that don’t quite fit in within a small, all white Ohio town. American born- Chinese James Lee wants nothing more than to fit in, Marilyn Lee, his wife wants nothing more than to stand out. Her life’s goal is to be the very opposite of her housewife mother, she wants to be a doctor. She soon becomes pregnant and her goals get put on hold, until they have Lydia, their beloved second child. But in the summer of 1970, Lydia’s body is found in the lake and everything begins to unravel.

“Sometimes you almost forgot: that you didn’t look like everyone else. In homeroom or at the drugstore or at the supermarket, you listened to morning announcements or dropped off a roll of film or picked up a carton of eggs and felt like just another someone in the crowd. Sometimes you didn’t think about it at all. And then sometimes you noticed the girl across the aisle watching, the pharmacist watching, the checkout boy watching, and you saw yourself reflected in their stares: incongruous. Catching the eye like a hook. Every time you saw yourself from the outside, the way other people saw you, you remembered all over again.”

Celeste Ng

Break it Down:

Sad and heartbreaking, full of words unspoken and wishes/dreams never achieved. It’s a book about strength, but also about weakness and vulnerability. I found myself shouting at the characters in the book, just let them know! Open up, it will be so much easier…but nothing happens and they continue to bottle up emotions which in turn eats away at them. The title of the book could not be any more accurate, so so many words unspoken and things unsaid.

Marilyn’s obsessive need to push on Lydia all the things she wasn’t able to achieve, was really irritating. Although I was impressed with her drive and her dream to be a doctor, I didn’t like how she never saw how she was essentially pushing/driving her daughter away. And in some way James was doing the same to Nathan by simply ignoring him, he so badly wanted him to be different to him and to stand out less than he did, but ironically- Nathan is the one achieving what the parents want, but no one seems to care. I actually struggled to figure out if Lydia or Nathan was the eldest, mostly because I couldn’t figure out why so much focus and emphasis was put on the 2nd born, when naturally we do this with the 1st born. Maybe it’s because she was female and Marilyn so wanted her to be different, maybe it was because she had blue eyes and secretly more like the people of the town they lived in…we will never really know for sure. I just can’t believe how such well-intentioned people couldn’t see just how much they were damaging all three of their children in different ways. Poor Hannah was essentially not even noticed and essentially ignored, Nath was achieving all the things they wished for Lydia and getting absolutely none of the praise or recognition and Lydia was beginning to show cracks from being under so much pressure and all of this was ignored.

It really disappointed me that James begins an affair with Louisa his assistant, I can kind of understand that she allows him to clear his mind, but everyone is dealing with losing Lydia and yet, they have all gone to their separate corners and have left each other to their own devices. Allowing their individual grief to consume them. His anger towards Nath is so sad because he’s the one person he shows his anger to, but also if he only stopped to see just how similar they both are-they could find common ground. I also found it really sad how James felt he needed to suppress his culture in order to fit in, to the point where Louisa was also like a wake up for him because he never realized just how much of himself he had tried to ignore. He never felt comfortable enough to tell his wife just how much the words her mother spoke stung him and how they had stayed with him all those years. The book also did a great job of showing just how we can misinterpret body language and subtleties from others, instead of just asking for clarification, we see things through our own perspectives. Like how James wanted to speak to Nath about his experiences growing up being a minority and show him how that shaped who he is as an adult, yet instead of giving him insight James chooses to be tough, verging on mean to his son, fully believing this will strengthen him. Even when he sees the damage he is doing to Nath, he still can’t stop himself from delivering tough love to him. Those interactions made me cringe, because if he could just tell him how he was feeling and not masking it, I believe his and Nath’s relationship could have been so much better.

Hannah is the only one who sees so much and in her young age she has a lot of wisdom, yet no one actually sees her. Nath is so excited for his future, but it’s like life has stopped and he isn’t allowed to be excited and in some ways his sister finds the last and biggest way to overshadow him once again. I have to admit that despite the fact that Lydia drowns in the lake, which appears to be accidental, she claims to not enjoy the unadulterated attention, yet every time Nathan had good news, she always found a way to bring the attention back to her. Yet, she would seek Nathan out every time she felt overwhelmed by it all, I found this really frustrating and superficial from her. I also found the plot line between Jack and Nath one that was so confusing and I never foresaw Jack being in love with Nath as a development, but then I found myself willing them to be together and the mystery never gets clarified. LOL.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

Celeste Ng

Negatives?:

I could not find negatives from the book, the characters each came with their own frustrations for the reader, but it made them much more real and relatable because we’re all complicated and we all carry our own damage around, even if they never speak truth to or admit it.

The RnR Rating:

4 out of 5 RnR’s

Would I recommend the book?:

Most definitely, it’s written so beautifully and discusses pain so acutely it’s sad and melancholic but so so intriguing. Celeste Ng writes like a painting, building and weaving the story of how the Lee’s lives changed one summer night, but yet how so many events interweave and add to the lead up of Lydia’s death.

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