For Christmas, my sister bought me Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. She had devoured her other novel Little Fires Everywhere and wanted to know what I thought of this, Celeste’s debut. The problem was that I had already asked for six other books for Christmas, and before I finished those my birthday came around where I bought another seven, and so this one slipped down the pile.
I also have some personal book reading quirks, one of which is that I never read a gifted book straight away. If I haven’t asked for it and have no idea what to expect, I have to let the book percolate on my shelf for a while until I’m ready to read it.
The opening lines of the book, and the back blurb rang a little ominously in my ears when I read them aloud.
‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.’
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
In that moment, I knew I wasn’t ready for what the book would entail – you have to be in a certain mood for death, I find. Five months after Christmas however, it would appear that I was ready!
I read the book in a little over twenty-four hours during the course of a quiet weekend. The chapters are long and meaty, and I took my first break at the end of the fourth chapter. Already the book had surprised me, and the mystery had barely begun to unravel.
This book is a pressure cooker of unspoken emotions and the damage inflicted by parents upon their children, for who they want a life better than what they had. This echoes from generation to generation, each time with more sadness and a higher price paid from expectation versus reality.
The story delivers a steady sense of unease as the three children suffocate under the weight of their parents unlived dreams bearing down on them. Lydia takes the brunt of it, but Nath and Hannah are equally crushed and left in her shadow. I found Hannah’s character to be the most delicately written, and a beautiful blend of childish naivety and wisdom beyond her years.
Everything I Never Told You tackles racism in the 1950s-70s and how it feels to be different. James has Chinese parents, and Nath, Lydia and Hannah are growing up with dual Chinese-American heritage in a small town in Ohio where they are the only Orientals. Time and again the novel grapples with desires to stand out versus blend in, and the heartbreak of trying to make friends and feign popularity.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found that I could empathise with every single character and the problems they were struggling with. Each of their strands culminates in a melting pot of lies and disappointment and questions that will forever go unanswered.