Published by Penguin on May 12th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Family Life
Format: Audio Book
Buy on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks
A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation.
Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet....
So begins the story in this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in a small town in 1970s 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' 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 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 pause-resister 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.
“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you.”
April’s book club selection was Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. This book centers around a mixed-race family in the ’70’s who suffer a great tragedy. This story is told from multiple perspectives and jumps around in time. While this kind of storytelling could be confusing, Ng’s beautiful writing makes it easy to follow the events as they unfold. I listened to the audio version of the book, and the narrator was phenomenal. She really made the story come alive and hooked me from the very beginning. At our meeting this month, several of the ladies who read the novel found it hard to get into, so I would definitely recommend listening to the audio. This story is heartbreaking, and listening to it wasn’t as depressing as I’ve heard reading it was.
The Lee family is a family of five who lives in Ohio. Being mixed-race, the children struggle with fitting in with a predominately white community. When the middle child, Lydia, is discovered dead, the family recollects the events that brought them to this moment and reflect on how it could have been avoided. Through the various perspectives of the characters (including Lydia), readers discover how their lack of communication caused lingering hurts that festered.
“He can guess, but he won’t ever know, not really. What it was like, what she was thinking, everything she’d never told him. Whether she thought he’d failed her, or whether she wanted him to let her go. This, more than anything, makes him feel that she is gone.”
My favorite characters in the story were Nathan and Hannah. Every other member of the Lee family was unsympathetic. James was filled with self-hate and pushed his desire to be “American” i.e. white onto his children. Marilyn was a smart woman who settled for the status quo, and then resented her family for her choices. Lydia was just a typical self-involved teenager. I hated how the parents treated Nathan and Hannah, and really felt sorry for them. Their neglect caused damage to both of those kids, just like their obsession with Lydia destroyed her. So many problems could have been avoided if the family just talked to each other. This made the story very frustrating for me.
While I enjoyed listening to the book, I don’t think I could have ever read it. The story is really depressing, and I’m not sure I could have handled it without the audio. One reason is the characters aren’t very likable, and that’s one of the major reasons I have for not being able to read a novel. The other was the story. Because it hops back and forward in time, and back and for the between narrators, I think this book would have been difficult to follow without the audio. Many of the women in book club agreed, so be warned. Do I consider this book a must read? Not really. But if you have to read it, you will probably enjoy it. Just get the audio.