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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel

Everything I Never Told You By Celeste Ng is a moving portrait of a family dealing with loss of great magnitude, and it's quite incredible.

Lydia doesn't come down for breakfast one morning in May. Her family is frantic to find her--she couldn't have just ran away. She is found a week later in the lake down the street. Was she murdered or did she kill herself? The truth may be more hard to swallow than what her mother believes may have happened. Growing up is hard, and growing up in a mixed race family in 1970's middle America is even harder. Deeper than that, though, is facing how we raise our children and the expectations we place on them. 

This story was beautiful and haunting and painful at times. I will be clear up front that I cannot personally understand what it is like to grow up in mixed race family; Ng, however, paints such an honest and colorful picture that pathos is not hard to come by as the reader. James, the patriarch, is the son of Chinese immigrants who did not have many friends as a child--he was the only Asian student he knew of growing up. Marilyn is as American apple pie as they come--her home-ec teacher mother sent her off to Harvard telling her that she would meet so many wonderful men there. Two more opposite people could not have met in the late 1950's, but they did and they came together to form their family in spite of the push back they received. Ng writes such a lovely narrative that it feels as though you know these two--their personal struggles, their marital struggles, and their grief.

This novel tells the whole story of the Lee family, but not in a traditional narrative. Chapters jump around in time and it is absolutely seamless; you know exactly where you are in the lives of every Lee without Ng having to be obvious about it. The story is just spectacular, complicated yet simple in its essence, and it was such a pleasure to read it. You may think you know what is happening in the beginning, but you have no idea. People are complicated with layers and twists and turns; teenagers even more so. Ultimately I understood why Lydia was so miserable and became the young woman she was. That is Ng's writing in its finest form.

Hard copy for purchase below.

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