But she did not know how to explain what had happened, how everything had changed in just one day, how someone she loved so dearly could be there one minute, and the next minute: gone.
Celeste Ng was a new author to me, but she is certainly at the top of my list now. Everything I Never Told You is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel about family, love, and the secrets people keep from each other. It is solidly literary fiction, but with a mystery, which is one of my favorite genres. So while the subject is certainly a heavy one (a teenager dies), Ng writes about it in a way that will keep up late reading.
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” This is the striking beginning to Ng’s story about a Chinese-American family living in Ohio in the 1970s. Lydia is the favorite middle child of James and Marilyn Lee, and when her body is found at the bottom of a nearby lake, no one in her family understands how it could have happened. Throughout the story, we find out how Lydia’s parents met, and what her brother and sister might know about what really happened to her the night she died.
This story broke my heart over and over, but the writing was so good that I had to keep going back in for more. The subject of a child dying was tough to read at times, especially being a parent, but Ng is such a skilled storyteller, and I trusted where she was taking the story. And while the novel does center on a tragedy, it’s really about the bigger picture of familial relationships: husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister. It is a delicate, poignant look at what it looks like when parents place their own insecurities onto their children, and how negatively that can affect them, even with the best of intentions. Lydia’s parents each placed pressure on her that they didn’t really mean to, without ever asking what she wanted for herself. (And making some rather selfish decisions themselves, which made me angry.) Ng does a wonderful job showing the long-term ripple effect that even the smallest of choices can make.
Everything I Never Told You is a wonderfully-written novel about family and family secrets, long-lost dreams and expectations. If you like literary fiction with a little mystery and a lot of heart, I cannot recommend this one enough.
Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be out on September 12, 2017, and you can bet I’m pre-ordering it!