I have discovered several authors this year who I love who have only written one book and who write very slowly. Julie Otsuka (who has written two books, but they were published nine years apart), Min Jin Lee and now Celeste Ng. Everything I Never Told You is her debut novel and according to the acknowledgement it took her six years to finish. I hope I don’t have to wait six years to read another novel by Ng, but if I did it would probably be worth the wait.
Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family Hannah who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
I also love that the Lees are an interracial/biracial family. Ng handled all the points of view very well, and it’s one of the most satisfying portrayals of what it is to be a part of an interracial/biracial family I’ve read. She strikes the right balance of not letting it define the Lees but acknowledging how it affects them.
My only complaint would have to be when Ng describes James’ cowlick as “one whisp [that] stood straight up in back, like an Indian chief’s feather.” There’s another time James stares at the Indian on the test pattern on the TV. The book is set in the 1970s and it’s not PC (there are several times racial slurs are used throughout the book), but in both these situations I thought it was unnecessary to mention Indians. There’s no reason Ng couldn’t have just described it as a cowlick and had James staring at a different part of the test pattern (or the blank screen of the TV) and left it at that.
Other than that though, Everything I Never Told You is a great debut novel, and I look forward to reading many more books from Celeste Ng.
This is my 79th book read for the Diversity on the Shelf 2014 challenge
This is my 105th book read for my booklikes challenge