Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, is a fiction novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. The story starts with the disappearance and death of the middle child, sixteen-year-old Lydia, and from there, explores how each member of the family deals with the grief while also delving into each character and their relationship with the other members of the family.
This is a type of book that I normally would not have much interest in reading, but with my desire to support an Asian-American author and the book’s appearance on multiple must-read lists when it was first released, I felt like it was a no-brainer for me to give this book a try.
(Minor spoilers ahead)
First of all, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find out quite quickly that the book was about a mixed-race family. The book is marketed as about a Chinese-American family, and while that is still true, I appreciate that the book also has a focus on the struggle of being a mixed-race family in the 1970s.
Otherwise, to be honest, I had mixed feelings about the book. It started off strong, when it focused on how each of the family members dealt with their grief and each character’s struggles throughout their life. I felt deeply with the characters, each instance of sexism or racism each of them experiencing cutting deeply as they reminded me of some of my own experiences growing up as an Asian-American woman. I felt the weight each child had on their shoulders, whether from their parents’ expectations or from the pressure they put on themselves to succeed. At one point, the characters’ experiences became all too real to me that I actually considered putting the book down and never picking it back up. In the end, I managed to push myself to finish the book.
The book is a beautifully written one that is pretty easy to read, so it didn’t take much for me to breeze through it after a couple weeks’ break so that the sadness in the book wouldn’t weigh on me. As I read more though, I found myself also breezing through it so I could be done with it once and for all. While the themes that I previously mentioned continued throughout the book very wonderfully, the book also became a melodrama. The mother’s wordless disappearance from the family and the father’s infidelity with his graduate assistant are just two of examples of what I think are absurd plot points in relation to the novel. It just felt that anything dramatic introduced into the plot was done so solely to make the story seem more dramatic, not necessarily to value to the story. There’s also a frustrating lack in communication between all of the family members, to the point where I wanted to give up on the book because it was that ludicrous.
Overall, I would’ve enjoyed this book much more had it not contained the melodramatics. This is, of course, my own opinion, which may be heavily influenced by the fact that I’m just normally not a fan of this type of book. That being said, I still would recommend this book to people, just with the caveat that you have to be ready for some soap opera type drama.
Have you read this book before? If so, let me know what you thought of it!