Review on “Everything I Never Told You”


Reading “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng brought me the honor of learning about the art of writing and connecting gender, race and the weight of one generation unfulfilled ambitions upon the shoulders of the next in the setting of a 1970s small town.

When I first opened this book, Ng immediately established that Lydia Lee, the protagonist, was dead. She was found in the town’s lake, her body deteriorated and barely recognizable.

This discovery shook the Lee’s household and set off a chained of arguments and questions between Lydia’s mother and father, Marilyn Lee and James Lee.

It portrayed an in-depth examination of a mix-race family struggles and how a young woman decides to take on the burden of the struggles.  It shows how eventually every little action we do at the expense of another person’s happiness accumulates to one moment that changes everything.

The author splendidly tied parental pressure, school, and isolation together by stringing it with a series of events that eventually led up to Lydia’s death.  It was a heartfelt portrait of a family trying to find its place in the world and unresolved regrets and history.

Marilyn and James’ love set in stone Lydia’s death. Marilyn, an ambitious white woman in the 1970s wanted to be more than a pretty face in the crowd. She was driven to become a successful doctor and stand out among the other male doctors.

James, who was an Asian teacher, had a dream of working for Harvard. He wanted nothing more than to fit in after years of bullying and isolation from his peers.

Marilyn and James’ were an ideal situation of opposite attract – both dangerous and exhilarating. The way the author played with the cliché did not leave a single dent or hole in the story. More so, its enhanced Lydia’s death. It was as if the wheels of death were already turning for Lydia before she was born.

Eventually, their goals were put to a halt when James was unable to get a job at Harvard and Marilyn got pregnant with her first child, Nath Lee, right before finishing her last year of college.

Nath later became one of the two people Lydia would confide in. The only person who understood her burden and was the foundation of her strength.

When Marilyn left again to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, it left the Lee’s household in a desperate state.

Lydia, after her mother’s return, was determined to keep her mother happy and in the family in whatever ways possible. Even if that meant lowering her head and listening to her mother and father’s words.

She became not only the favorite child of Marilyn and James but the embodiment of their lost hope and dreams.

Eventually, the stress became overbearing. Lydia, who knew she could no longer fulfill her parents’ dreams, decided to start over again, in the lake, she nearly drowned in at a young age because she did not know how to swim.

It was acceptance and the hopeful desire to restart all over again. This time for Lydia, she would have the confidence to voice herself and her needs.

This was heart-wrenching as Lydia failed to reach the port after jumping off the boat she rowed to the middle of the lake.

There was a mixture of disappointment and grief that dwelled in my heart because Lydia was unable to get the restart she wanted but maybe, now peace and relieve after seeing the world from her point of view.

Eventually, James and Marilyn after months of minimum contact that left a gaping hole in each of their family members heart consoled and fell in love again.

While Lydia was not able to restart her life, her family was given another chance. Marilyn and James are more aware of their other children, Nath and Hannah. Lydia’s death took her parents lost dreams and hopes to her grave.

Her death had started her parents time again which had halted when Marilyn got pregnant with Nath and James was unable to get a job at Harvard.

This book was extraordinary. Celeste Ng’s ability to interlace the discrimination, adolescent years, bullying, the burden of parental hopes and dreams and even writing about a sensitive topic such as suicide and was able to portray the book in such realism created a striking debut for Ng.

The amount of relation one can connect their personal life to this book was a profound experience as we found little bits of ourselves in Lydia’s life when she was alive.