EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU
Written by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin, June 26, 2014
My star rating: 2.75 stars
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill 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 into chaos.
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another. Find it on Goodreads
This book has been everywhere since its release. No matter what store I go into that sells books – this one is on the shelf. I held off on picking it up for a few reasons (that I’ll get to in a minute). But naturally, after over 3 years of this book being everywhere and after reading SO MANY positive reviews, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to pick it up. After finishing it, I have to say that I wish I would have listened to my instincts on this one……….
My low rating of this book has everything to do with my personality and my reading tastes. This book was just NOT meant for me. That’s right – it’s a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” I didn’t hate this book by any means, but I also didn’t find my experience with it to be overly enjoyable. Like I said in the beginning, I went into this with strong instincts of what was going to happen. I’ve read a few family drama type books in the past and they all have the same style and format. I can appreciate what this book did and how it did it, but at the same time this isn’t my thing.
First of all, this is a family drama. I know that it starts off with the death of the oldest daughter, but you’re making a mistake if you go into this book expecting there to be an element of mystery. Because there isn’t one. I think that was partly my problem. I hoped that the elements of family drama (that I usually find to be very slow and boring) would have been mixed with the mystery element of Lydia’s death, and that never happened. The death of Lydia was more so used as a tool to propel this family and the exploration of their past and present.
And because it’s a family drama, there isn’t a lot going on. And by that, I mean literally nothing happens in this book and I was just so freaking BORED!! I kept waiting for something at least semi exciting, unexpected, scandalous, secretive – ANYTHING! But nothing. It felt like a drawn out recount of a day in the life with this family sprinkled with a little background story. The central focus is how each character was as an individual and how they came together as a family… their emotions, desires, and passions. Each character is so vastly different, yet here they are, together as a family, trying to make things work as they’re faced with tragedy. We spent a lot of time looking back at events in the past that made them who they were. This was successful sometimes and not so much at others. In the beginning, when I was still trying to figure out what was happening, we were immediately thrown into the lives of James and Marilyn, all the way back to their childhood. It ended up being a missed opportunity for me to connect with them because I felt this happened too early. I didn’t know who they were, what was happening in the story as a whole, and didn’t care enough about them yet to want to know about their childhood.
The narrative was a little awkward but, in the end, it was probably my favourite thing about this book. Each chapter (which was PAINFULLY long by the way!!!!) focused on everything and everyone, without a central focal point. It started off confusing because as things were happening I couldn’t keep the people and situations separate. All of their thoughts and emotions melted together a little bit. I kind of wished that we would have had shorter chapters where each character got to share a part of the story. But, like I said, the way that this was written ended up being my favourite part! Instead of having the views and perspectives divided, we saw the situation as a whole. Each person experienced the same situation but in a different way. Take Lydia’s funeral for example. Nath (the brother) is angry and accusatory towards someone he thinks knows more about his sisters death than he’s letting on. Nath is determined and furious. James (the father) tries to calmly diffuse the situation. He’s the strength and the rock but also just so tired. Marilyn (the mother) is overcome with emotion, as is understandable. And Hannah (youngest daughter) wants so desperately to console her mother but she’s pushed aside and looked past, yet again. It was a heartbreaking scene and wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t get all of their perspectives at once. It made the story, their relationship, their emotions, and every tiny detail so complex and involved.
I also liked that this was involving a Chinese American relationship in the 70’s, where something like this wasn’t all that understood or accepted. Times were different then and it was absolutely heartbreaking how they always needed to validate themselves as far as their intellect and their love. And even though James was born in America, he was still an outsider because of the way he looked.
It was this writing style that actually made me continue reading. I really enjoyed how smooth she wrote and how she was able to bounce back and forth between past and present to make the story larger and more involved. She was able to make me relate to the characters and even like them despite their horrible choices at times. I was able to sympathize with them, relate their emotions and thoughts to my own life, and feel connected to them all in some way. If it wasn’t for her great writing, I would have given up on this book. Her writing is also why I plan to give her another chance. I’m thinking that this book itself just wasn’t for me. I was so bored. Nothing really happened – it was more about the complexities of their lives together and separate as a family. I’m more the type of reader who prefers action, adventure, deep and raw emotions, layers and so much more. This book wasn’t meant for me and I missed the mark with it entirely. But I will be reading more from her in the future!
Did anyone else not feel connected to this story? Or if you felt really connected with this story, what do you think I’m missing? Who was your favourite character? I would really love some spoilery thoughts in the comments. Like I said, this wasn’t a bad book by any means, and I would love to maybe take a step back and look at this from a different light.
Until next time, happy reading!