Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I read this book as part of the #AsianLitBingo, you can see my planned TBR here.
Everything I Never Told you knocked my breath away and left me aching. I went through an entire spectrum of emotion during my reading experience: I raged, I wept, I hoped, but most of all I flinched whenever I saw myself reflected within the dark thoughts of these characters. This is a book that capture all the words ever left unsaid, whether it’s murmurs of an unfulfilled dream, or the seemingly hopeless longing for recognition. It’s a poignant and powerful examination of the costs of love and the burden of expectations.
One of the line that stuck with me after reading Everything I Never Told You is a young Lydia Lee’s pondering on the ‘fragility of happiness’. The Lee family has been hovering on a precipice – their joy tainted by words left unspoken, their mutual love turning destructive via the weight of expectations. Everything begins to bubble to the surface when Lydia is found dead in a local lake. In the search for the truth of what happened to Lydia, we have to dig deep – from the childhoods of her own parents to her relationship with her older brother, Nath.
“How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers.”
While it’s set up as a murder mystery, Everything I Never Told You is ultimately a powerful family drama. If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll know that drama is a sub-genre I rarely read or discuss on this blog. However, Celeste Ng is beyond gifted with words- she can turn the mundane everyday into something startling. As they say, the devil is in the details, and the characters in this novel burst into life through seemingly insignificant gestures. Celeste Ng manages to imbue even the unremarkable with emotional potency – you have to read this book to discover it for yourself.
“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.”
As I’ve alluded to previously, this book’s strongest point lies in its characters – especially the Lee family. We get to learn about all five members of the family and their history throughout the novel – along with their shared isolation from society due to racial prejudices. James is a Chinese-American who’s been fighting to shed stereotype since he was a young boy. He married Marilyn, an American woman who’s sole dream is to escape her mother’s mould for the ‘ideal woman’. Their reunion, while filled with love and joy, was marred by the rejection of Marilyn’s mother. This knock-back is but one of several that the Lee family faces throughout their lifetime.
The ostracization of immigrants is a familiar subject in fiction. Sometimes it seems like the only stories we’re allowed to tell are ones where our hurt are laid bare. Although Everything I Never Told You first appears to fall within this mould, it never turns the struggles of its characters into a spectacle to teach or entertain. For me, the book remained genuine and heartfelt, even when I want to reach into the pages and shake some senses into some of the Lees.
Needless to say, my first read for #AsianLitBingo was a total success. There’s still so much of May left and plenty of time to join us!