Monday, August 4, 2014

Review: Everything I Never Told You

Summary: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another. -- Penguin Press

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng will definitely go down as one of my favorite summer reads. I actually read it awhile back and I regret not writing my review right away. Having said that, I still remember quite a bit from this novel, especially the wonderful writing; and I think that just might be the biggest testament to how powerful of a novel this is. When you read as many books as I have this summer, only the special ones really stick with me.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU begins with the statement, "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet..." Lydia is the middle daughter of a Chinese American family in the 1970s is a small college town in Ohio. She definitely had a lot of pressure on her in her young life. Her mother Marilyn was certain that Lydia would become a doctor, and her father James wanted to make sure that Lydia could have the social life and standing that he never had.

Lydia's body is found in a lake and the mystery into her disappearance and death turns this family's world upside down. Lydia's father turns to another woman and puts his marriage in jeopardy, while her mother is determined to find the guilty party. Lydia's older brother Nathan feels that his arch enemy Jack is involved and wants revenge; however, it's the family's youngest member Hannah who might hold some valuable clues.

As tensions rise surrounding Lydia's death, the Lee family's foundation begins to crumble. Painful secrets are revealed which threaten to tear apart the family unit, and even though they try to understand and accept each other, the damage might already be done.

I'm pretty certain that words can't express how much I loved this book... but I'll try. I chose to feature it for Mystery Monday because there was definitely a mystery element to the death of Lydia, and I did appreciate how the secrets was eventually revealed. However, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU was so much more than just a mystery story. This novel explored family dynamics, parent/child relationships, as well as gender and race issues. I found it to be spectacular!

One thing I loved about this novel was how the author decided to tell the story. The book is written in third person but it provides the backstory on the Lee family as well as how it coped with Lydia's disappearance and death. While I thought the parts of the novel that dealt with how each family member handled her death and how it really shook the family to the core, I also appreciated that I got to see the family prior to the tragedy. Their pain was so real and yet they kept so much of it secret from the other family members. Because of this insight, I actually was able to understand their actions (even when I disagreed with them!)

Another thing that was really special about this book was how how much it made me feel. All three Lee children really touched me heart in very different ways, but Lydia's brief life especially broke my heart. She was the middle child, but the one whom the parents really pressured to be "everything." When Marilyn's dreams of becoming a doctor ended, she decided that Lydia could fulfill her dream; and James wanted Lydia to fit into society in a way he never did. With all of that pressure, Lydia felt that she could never rock the boat, and she did her best to keep everyone happy. It was so pitiful for a young girl to have so much on her shoulders.

Finally, one of the things I most appreciated about EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU was how it explored some complex issues including gender and race. The Lee family was a Chinese American family in the 1970s. It couldn't have been easy for them especially living in a small town with small town views. I thought Ms. Ng did a great job of showing the issues they faced especially the prejudices.

I would love to discuss EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU with my book club. I loved this family, quirks and all; and my heart went out to all of them for very different reasons. Because of all of this dysfunction, there is a lot to discuss about both their actions and motivations. In addition, there is a terrific book club resource with a reading guide along with a question and answer with Ms. Ng. As someone who is always on the lookout for book recommendations, I appreciated that this guide included a recommended reading list (both fiction and non-fiction.) There is also a playlist and recipe that could further enhance your meeting. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, mixed race families, culture, grief, loss, revenge, race, gender, pressure, stereotype, duty, and redemption.

I absolutely loved EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU. The writing was terrific and the characters provided much food for thought. Highly recommended!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like this book explores a lot of issues. The fact that it's written in 3rd person and it still made you feel so much says a lot about the writing to me.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) said...

Shannon at River City Reading was the first rave review I've seen of this book...and now yours. I'm definitely going to get to it this year!!

Author Sara F. Hathaway said...

Your review of this book is so profound it really makes me want to pick it up but as a mother with a thirteen and a two year old, this is a scary topic. I'll probably have to buy stock in Kleenex!

Beth Hoffman said...

I recently read this book and enjoyed it. Nice review, Julie!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've got to add this one to my list!

Unknown said...

I have to say this was a good book but for me not a great one. Ng is a talented writer but some parts were stronger than others. The plot kept me engaged but I also got tired of the behavior of some of the characters.