Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

Guten Tag, buch freunde! (Good day, book buddies!)

Welp… I just finished up reading Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I saw this book at B & N and thought it looked good.. but I rented from my local library to see if it was purchase worthy first…. I’m glad I did.

The entirety of the book revolves around the disappearance/death of the beloved middle child Lydia Lee. Her parents (James and Marilyn), as well as her siblings (Nath and Hannah), struggle with accepting her untimely death. In their search for answers, the discover their own faults and find the breaking point of the family. The book also has various points of flashbacks that allow us insight to the hidden secrets of this very private family.

It isn’t uncommon for me to read the last couple of pages of a book. Sometimes I do it out of sheer delight and love…. other times, I’m just trying to gauge if I can stand to read another word. At page 80 or so, I skipped to the last few pages- sadly it was because the latter of the two possibilities above. This book *drug* on. Clocking in at 292 pages for the story- it should have taken me 2 days or less. In total, I was chugging away at this book for 5 long, joyless days. Today I read over half the book just because I’m super excited for my next read. You read that right- 4 of those days and I barely made it half way through. Here’s why…

  1. The characters are terribly dull, conceited, and selfish. A list for you:
    • James (father)- son of Chinese immigrants that just wants desperately wanted to fit in. He imagined that is exactly what his children would want and pushed that ideology off on them ten fold. Constantly begrudged his kids when they “failed” his expectations.. On top of everything, despite knowing he was stepping in the wrong direction, he never was able to apologize! It was actually his infidelity around page 80 that made me really question if I was interested in this book.
    • Marilyn (mother)- white daughter of a “Betty Crocker” mother, she wanted to be the exact opposite of her mother in every way. Instead of being a stay at home mom, she strove to be top of her class in hopes of becoming a doctor. She “failed” her life aspirations when she met, and fell in love with, James. They got married after discovering she was pregnant and she became what she didn’t ever want to do. Her unforgivable quality is that she up and abandoned her family to re-pursue her dreams of being a doctor. When she came up pregnant (again), she sulked back home… and AGAIN, no apology was issued. From that point on, she pushed her doctor dreams unto her all-to-eager daughter, Lydia.
    • Lydia was incapable of being honest with how she felt. Just once, if she had spoken sooner, her death could have been avoided. But, alas, she drowned because she was not able to be open with anyone about anything in her life. Even her and her bother (who had an “unspoken” bond) didn’t know the true Lydia. I didn’t care for Lydia because she was vicious- threatening Jack (side character, neighborhood flirt), cutting attention from Nath when he announces about Harvard, smacking her sister for wearing her necklace. It just seemed to me that she didn’t care for anyone but herself, but wasn’t willing to be open either.
    • Nath (brother) – The entire book it is obvious that Nath is jealous of the attention his family gives his sister and not him. Where Lydia sees “understanding” I saw cutting remarks from him about “look how lucky you are, remember where I’m at…” situations. Can’t fault him for being excited about going to Harvard and getting attention there, but I can fault him that he mentions, numerous times, that he noticed a difference in his sister and refused to address it.
    • Hannah (youngest sibling, sister) ***
  2. When James had an affair. This made me really struggle to continue reading. To imagine that someone blinded with grief would accept offers to be in bed with young women, THAT REMIND HIM OF HIS DEAD DAUGHTER, is gross to me.
  3. Ng wrote the book so that the reader is given constant insight to the thoughts of others and I HATED IT. I wanted to punch James and Marilyn every time they spoke. Why Ng couldn’t just write them opening up just once- verbally, not physically- I may have felt different. Instead I’m left knowing James misinterpreted a statement made my Marilyn. It was frustrating.

There was one character of this book that I liked and that was Hannah. Poor, poor Hannah. In the whole book she fights so hard to be loved. Nobody cares if she is there or not throughout the entire book (until the last like 20 pages or something). This kid is supposed to be like 6 and she doesn’t often get the feel or touch of her parents of siblings. They all push her away constantly. I think Marilyn blames her for being the pregnancy that brought her back to her hellish life. I think James is just a shitty father. I think the siblings are too stuck on each others’ lives… but, maybe on an unconscious level, they blame Hannah for bringing back a changed mom? None of them take notice to this small child. My heart broke for her the whole book. Ng writes that she even has a room in the attic where she can, basically, be forgotten. How completely sad. I wish that in the end Hannah held the secret to Lydia’s death. The family dynamic needed to fall apart, and ultimately, Hannah brings them together again… but I wish it was just in a different fashion. (Also, I wish the adults in this story would have been capable of pulling their heads of of their asses themselves….)

Also, Ng brings up race numerous times throughout this book. I realize she was trying to being attention to a problem of this time era (stretches from 50s to 70s) that was common for anyone of foreign nationalities, but she did so with such a heavy hand and constant hounding, I found myself not absorbing the impact she was probably trying to get. For it being such a big problem she wants to address, she never really lets the issue flush in the end. All these happenings in the book do just that… they happen and that is it. No additional comments, no fighting for whats right. No family discussion about heritage and pride. Nothing. It was a disappointment, to say the least.

All in all, this book didn’t stack up to what I had hoped it would be. It just could have been stronger than what it was. I wouldn’t say I hated it or anything, it was just a small disappointment.

Have you read this book?


Have a good weekend! 🙂


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