Sunday 5 April 2020

Why I Couldn't Stop Thinking About Everything I Never Told You

 Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Publication Date: June 26th 2014

Lydia is dead. But they don't know it yet.

So beings the exquisite novel about a Chinese-American family living in the 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfil 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 all into chaos. 


I bought this book on a whim, intrigued by the mystery behind what happened to Lydia but also about how Celeste Ng would address the issues surrounding the death of a family member. What I got out of the read was a lot more than that. Everything I Never Told You isn’t a long read, but for the length of it, there is so much to unpack. In all honesty, what I felt after finishing the book was a lot of confusion - not regarding the plot, but how I actually felt about the read. So much that it’s taken me almost 9 months to write a review on this.

Thinking back, I honestly appreciate how real Everything I Never Told You is. It’s painfully and uncomfortably real. Ng explores not only the dynamics of a family that is faced with internal problems but also the pressures of being Asian navigating a Western community that, during the time, was not tolerant of people with different backgrounds.

I would imagine that living in the 70s in America wouldn’t be as easy as how my family and I have it now. I wouldn’t say that we don’t experience some form of discrimination, but it is definitely not an everyday occurrence and it never hindered my experiences during school or university for the most part. Ng highlights the difficulties many families of different backgrounds would have faced when living in a predominately, if not all, white community and it serves to either be relatable, for readers like myself, or raise awareness for readers who have never experienced discrimination based on race. What I found most relatable and terribly uncomfortable reading was the pressures of trying to fit in and being accepted. From Lydia’s grandparents to her parents and eventually herself, the desire to be liked by those around them may not always be a glaring want but it is a constant thought on the edge of their mind. The questions of accepting one-self for who they are vs. grasping onto any means of conforming is such a big part of this story and something I can understand. I found myself both frustrated but also sympathetic with the characters, wanting to knock some sense into them but also to comfort them and let them know it will be okay. 

Despite the characters written in such a realistic manner, I couldn’t bring myself to like any of them. Maybe the frustrations I had with them and their actions overwhelmed my ability to feel bad for them overall. I think it came down to how human they are - not that I don’t like humans. Instead, what I mean is that, we are so use to thinking of the present and how we want to act a certain way or say something in the moment but not consider what the consequences will be for ourselves and others around us in the near future. The lack of perspective from most of the characters and their inability to really think of the people who they supposedly care about and care about them really painted them in a bad light. It really asks the questions of whether good intentions, or the belief that you are acting out of good intentions, an excuse for terrible behaviour? If it is possible to disregard everyone else’s feelings to fulfil your own wants and needs and not come across as selfish? And ultimately, if the mere act of forgiveness can really make everything okay again. 

Cleary I was very emotionally invested in Everything I Never Told You, but not in the way I thought I would be. I went into it hoping to be engrossed by the mystery but came out with an abundance of emotions that sprung from so many questions during the read. I honestly love reading books that can engage with you and make you think about every element that is being brought. I feel like everyone will take something different out of this read. For me, it is what can be considered right or wrong, how do we best understand and acknowledge others’ feelings and what can we do with regret. 

Everything I Never Told You is well worth a read, based purely on the content. Ng writing adds to the experience, inviting readers to really envision everything on page and get on board the rollercoaster of emotions that will happen. 

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