Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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I’ve had this on my shelf for a while now, and wanted a short book to read and try to catch up on my Reading Challenge. This one only had little over 300 pages, so I was hoping to whizz through it, and it was a fairly enjoyable read in the end.

Below is my review, plus a sneaky peak at the front cover and description and places to buy:

About The Book

Everything I Never Told You 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.

My Review

Everything I Never Told You explores the YA genre, with a strange mystery vibe. It definitely contributes tropes of YA fiction through the characters age and issues the story tackles, but there is always the mystery of what happened hanging over the plot as well. The narrative is more of an exploratory one, rather than investigative as I initially thought.

Set in Ohio during the 1970s, we follow the Lee family on their journey to discover why their daughter Lydia was found at the bottom of a lake. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time, the changes of which were written extremely well written, and explores their family history, and what it was like for them to live as a multi-cultural family in those times. The story very much focuses on decoding the Lee family, finding out what goes on in each of the characters minds and how this affects their family life. The main focus is, of course, on Lydia, and life leading to her death in particular.

Everything that happened to each of the characters throughout the book was shown through their eyes, even if the story was written in (a sometimes confusing) third person. As we see things through many different points of view, not many things that happened were predictable, although James could sometimes be a guessable character. The most unpredictable turn of events was Lydia, which made sense seeing as she was the main focus of the story. There was nothing particularly climactic about the ending, but it was an overall interesting book with plenty happening at most points in the story. The plot was fairly fast paced because of this, and everything was logically set out to reveal important parts at just the right time. Nothing was included that necessarily seemed out of place, and by the end, everything was resolved.

With such a small cast of characters, each of them had a fully developed history and storyline which made them equally interesting. I found Lydia to be an extremely relatable character in terms of working hard to get what she wants and eventually breaking under the pressure put on her. She had a rebellious nature that became a seemingly large part of her the further into the book I got, and that seemed to be the case with many of the characters. Having characters like these, who are perfectly flawed, show us that no one in the world is perfect and everyone has their secrets. Due to this, the characters definitely felt real to me, because they were so relatable and didn’t seem polished in any way.

I was not necessarily kept guessing throughout the book, but I was constantly intrigued by the characters that continued to unfold and develop throughout the story. Eventually towards the end, you understand what happened to Lydia through her perspective, which was incredibly interesting. My favourite part of the book was when Nat was accepted into Harvard and the whole family make a fuss of him, when Lydia comes out and confesses she is failing Physics. This is quite a small section in the book, but I just felt it really demonstrated and embodied the feelings of each family member. Nat had finally achieved something his parents were proud of, and he was in the spotlight. His mother and father were pleased with his achievement, and Lydia finally shows that, as hard as she tries, she cannot be good at everything, no matter how much pressure is laid on her. The scenes that were written particularly well were those that really got into the depth of a character and understanding their history, and how that has affected their present. For example, understanding Marilyn and the relationship with her mother helped me to translate how Marilyn felt in the present day when mothering Lydia.

I possibly shed a few tears throughout this book, especially when Lydia was struggling with the pressure that has been put on her by her family, just because I found it very relatable, not because my family pressure me, but because I put a lot of pressure on myself to do well, and feel knocked down when I don’t reach my goals. I feel as though there are many points in this book which other readers will connect with in different ways, and will strike people emotionally, but this was just one moment that really go to me personally. I wasn’t necessarily gripped by the story itself, but the characters made me want to come back and find out more about them. It was an overall quick read, with a lot of depth packed into just over 300 pages.

There are very few books that I have read lately where I can say I really learnt something about myself, but this was an exception. This book taught me that pressure is not always a good thing, especially in high doses, and that we can’t always be good at everything. The best we can do is always strive to do the best we can do, and not be put down if what we get in return was not up to our high expectations.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are lover of character driven novels, rather than plot driven ones. A solid YA book but with plenty to capture older readers as well.

My Rating: 4 Muffins out of 5

Where To Buy

If you like the sound of the book, here is where you can buy it (including, but not limited to):

Amazon

The Book Depository

  Cover photo and description taken from Goodreads (view book profile here)

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