Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything Cover

Publish Date: June 26, 2014 by The Penguin Press

This story shattered my heart into a thousand pieces multiple times. 

Everything 1

This is about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Marilyn Lee is Caucasian; James Lee is Chinese. They have 3 children – Nathan (18), Lydia (16), and the youngest, Hannah. Lydia is the favorite child, 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 quiet stable family life as they know it is destroyed.

The book alternates between the past and present, and builds the story through a steady pace of character development with themes of family, grief, prejudice, and heartbreak.

Everything 2

I read Little Fires Everywhere last fall and absolutely loved it. It was my first Celeste Ng book and I was blown away by her storytelling skills and her writing prose.

There is always so much buzz about an author’s first and second book, and how they compare to each other. If the first book is very good, often readers are disappointed with an author’s sophomoric effort. My expectations were high, since there were so many accolades for this debut book. It did not disappoint.

This book affected me in many ways because I strongly identified with the characters’ struggles on racism and family expectations. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s in a traditional Chinese family living primarily in a white neighborhood. I felt so different than everybody else. Back then, differences were not embraced; they were ridiculed.

This book is a profoundly moving story of heartbreak, secrets, grief, loss, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sibling relationships, sexism, misogyny, marriage, friendship, needs, and self-reflection. The story will linger in your mind long after you finish it.

The grief that each Lee family member experienced was palpable and each person dealt with it in their own way. Marilyn went numb, Hannah felt ignored and lonely, James engaged in risky behavior, and Nath was angry and trying to find answers. They were all withdrawn and distant to each other for most of the book, but in the end a breakthrough happened and that’s when the tears flowed for me and didn’t stop.

This book is extraordinary but I have mixed feelings about it. The writing was beautiful, engaging, and haunting. It evoked such visceral emotions within me that made it hard to read at times. It has a heavy, complicated plot and I felt sad and angry for most of the book. Overall, it’s well written and worth your time, but you should be emotionally prepared before you read it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars 4 Stars

I like Little Fires Everywhere better because I enjoyed the story more, but I’m very glad that I read this.

9 thoughts

  1. I really enjoyed this book and I found your review so interesting since you had similar experiences to the characters. I agree, her writing is beautiful and so simple and spare. I love it.

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