Everything I Never Told You

IMG_0435Great title, right? I wished I had thought of it.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a novel set in the mid-1970s with a multi-cultural family in midwest suburbia. A Chinese father and a white American mother have three children and lots of secrets. It starts with the death of Lydia, the Lee’s middle daughter, who was found at the bottom of the nearby lake. Her tragic death starts the homicide investigation, and members of the Lee family look back in time to try to understand how it could have happened.

I was personally intrigued with Ng’s idea to craft a story with a mixed-race family in that era. It was a brilliant move because so few people had interracial marriages back then (and some states still banned it). Ng does a nice job revealing the social tension to the outright awful (such as the name-calling the oldest endures) which makes this family so isolated from the rest of the community. In addition, there are so many instances of outside judgment about the family, or comments about the children. Lydia is specifically unique with her jet black hair and blue eyes. In interviews, Ng admits that some of the racist actions that happened to her growing up were the fuel for these scenes.

I’m very impressed by the depth of character development in this novel. The narrative takes the time to show each character’s background, which helps to ground us with who they are when Lydia dies and why Lydia dies. On the one hand, the father hopes for his children to socialize and assimilate into American culture, and they live in a small town in Ohio and are the only minority there. Then there’s the mother, who hopes differently for her children, and demands that they stand out in order to gain success in careers. By the end of the novel, we have this very complicated family that we finally start to understand and sympathize for.