*Just a gentle note, this review may contain small spoilers*
Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a reading rut. I needed something new to read, something fresh and something that will make me fall back into reading again. So, while looking online for inspiration for new books, I saw that Everything I Never Told You was on offer for only two pounds on Amazon! After reading Little Fires Everywhere and that I enjoyed it so much, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to read Ng’s debut novel. And it’s safe to say that I adored this book. So, for now, what’s it actually about? Here’s the blurb:
‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.’
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese-American family living in 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.
A profoundly moving story of secrets and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait about love, lies and race.
Sounds gripping and brilliant, right? I can’t describe how much I loved this book. It got delivered on Monday and I was absorbed reading it, I found it hard to put it down. It was that good. I was aware of Celeste Ng only from Little Fires Everywhere – a book that struck a chord with many readers, and is still doing so, all over the world. For me, this debut novel stuck more of a chord with me than Little Fires Everywhere. I found I was more interested in the story and the wonderful characters. I just couldn’t put this book down.
Celeste Ng is a truly beautiful writer. Her writing is lyrical, magical, beautiful and it has a song-like side of it too. And at times, her writing is so lyrical and magical, there is a fairy-tale atmosphere too; even in the most heartbreaking and tragic situations. I think with reading her debut novel after reading Little Fires Everywhere, I appreciated her writing more and her style of voice. She has such an individual writing voice that it almost feels as if you’re dreaming. It sounds cheesy and a bit of a cliche, but it’s true. Her writing is absolutely beautiful.
This isn’t a crime thriller or even a murder mystery. The death of Lydia isn’t the entire novel, it’s at the centre of it, but at the core and overall in the novel, it’s about the consequences of her death and how her family react to it. Ng writes this so beautifully – the relationships between family members, between brother and sister, sister and sister, father and daughter, and mother and daughter. This can also be seen in Little Fires Everywhere – Ng writes the dynamics of families so well in that book, notably the relationship between mother and daughter. This was beautifully written and observed in Everything I Never Told You. With the relationship of Lydia and Marilyn being the main one but also what I found most interesting, the relationship between Marilyn and her own mother.
Throughout the book, there are a number of themes, too many to discuss but the main one that jumps out to me is the expectations of children. This links back to the relationships between mother and daughter as Marilyn, who through Lydia, is living the life she wanted. To be a doctor. To not be confined by social ideas – of settling down with a husband and staying in the kitchen. Marilyn had to stop her dreams when she found out she was pregnant so she sees Lydia as a way to achieve what she wanted to achieve. She even left her family to go back to college, to become a Doctor – something that she has always wanted to do – but she finds out she’s pregnant again. So it’s a cycle that goes on and on, something that she can’t break away from. I found this extremely fascinating, especially on Lydia’s side. Expectations, ultimately, I think, led Lydia to her death.
There is also the theme of race that also features in Little Fires Everywhere. Ng writes this so beautifully, notably with James. All throughout his life, James has felt like an outsider – from school right up until adulthood with his family as strangers on the streets stare at him, children at his children’s school laugh and tease, and even his own mother-in-law thinks Marilyn should be with someone ‘more like her’. Being an outsider is something that runs throughout the book. About being on the sidelines and never quite fitting in. Whether that’s school, work, or even your own family.
Last night, lying awake, she had watched the moon drift across the sky like a slow balloon. She couldn’t see it moving, but if she looked away, then back through the window, she could see that it had. In a little while, she had thought, it would impale itself on the shadow of the big spruce in the backyard. It took a long time. She was almost asleep when she heard a soft thud, and for a moment she thought that the moon had actually hit the true. But when she looked outside, the moon was gone, almost hidden behind a cloud. Her glow-in-the-dark clock said it was two A.M.
As I’ve said above, this is a brilliant and heartbreaking book that’s one of my favourite reads this year. Ng writes so beautifully – just one single sentence provokes every emotion. She places the Lee family under a microscope and studies them, analyses them… and she does it brilliantly. For me, this was a lot better than Little Fires Everywhere. I loved the story more and the characters (Nath being my favourite). It’s a story of expectations, pressure from society, about being an outsider, not fitting in, always on the sidelines watching on (for example, Hannah) but it’s about how a family reacts to the death of a child. And how that opens wounds and secrets and lies start to play out. It’s about everything that people don’t say to each other, even a simple: I love you. It’s a beautiful, raw and authentic examination of grief and loss. I can’t wait to see what Celeste Ng writes next.
You can read my review for Little Fires Everywhere here. If you haven’t read Everything I Never Told You, it’s still only two pounds on Amazon!
Have you read Everything I Never Told You yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!