Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Publication Date: June 26, 2014
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
[Special thanks to Penguin Press and Edelweiss for the review copy!]
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.
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. I was like, “WHOA.”
Looking back at the notes that I made, I asked myself if I could sum up everything that I felt while reading this book. I don’t know, but I’ll try.
This is my best try.
The only thing that took me so long to finish reading this book was its divisions. I think the chapters were too few. Only 12. My average reading time for a chapter was 26 minutes. The chapters had divisions within them, and I think it would have been better if those divisions within the chapters were the chapters themselves.
Aside from that, I love the book. So I’m gonna start explaining why.
Right from the start, all I wanted to know was why Lydia died. I guess that’s the point of reading mysteries–you want to know why things happened. And I guess that’s the point of writing mysteries–you want your reader to hang on and read more, so you reveal the answers slowly, and everything would make sense in the end.
But some readers, the impatient ones, would get tired of all the narration and skip to the end. That didn’t happen to me. First, I’m not impatient. And second, Celeste revealed things one at a time, giving way for my theories. Each part gave a different situation that would change my suspicions. Even my closest guess wasn’t close enough.
As I read more of the story, the characters’ personalities were defined, and those influenced my theories too.
James wanted to fit in. Marilyn wanted to prove something to herself. Lydia’s parents wanted her to be the person that they failed to become. And they clashed because of that.
Nath and Hannah, they wanted attention. Even Nath, who got accepted at Harvard, wasn’t given much credit because of their parents’ focus (especially their mother’s) on Lydia.
I hate Marilyn. I hate her for putting so much pressure on Lydia. But then, she’s a parent. Her core is love (my review for The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, talked about the core of parents) and even if I hate her, I understand her. I’m not a mother (hey, I’m 16!) but I understand. Because I once felt the same way towards my parents. The only (and super major) difference is that I talked to them about it and we’re totally okay now. That’s where the title comes in. Everything I Never Told You. “I” doesn’t only refer to Lydia. “I” could refer to Nath, or even Hannah. They never told their parents how they felt. That’s why their parents never knew what the truth was. Their parents (especially Marilyn) wasn’t aware of the effects of what they were doing. They thought (especially Marilyn) that it was fine–that everything was okay–because their children (especially Lydia) just smiled and did everything they want.
As the story went on, I understood where everything came from: The past of the parents. They (especially Marilyn) didn’t want their children to end up like she and James did, to have a childhood like theirs, to spend teenage years like they did. And as I read more, I understood their side more.
Parents just have to know that as much as they want their children to be like them (or be someone they failed to become, or so much more other things), every person in this world has an identity. A unique identity. Children have their own dreams. Parents are there to help them–to guide them–for their dreams to come true. Parents shouldn’t be dictators.
Aside from family issues, Everything I Never Told You also talked about racial discrimination, and its effects on people. That feeling of being the odd one out. Like you’re left out for like, forever. Having no friends because of dissimilar interests. I experienced that, at some point. I did. But what did I do? I spoke up and stood for myself. It turned out that I was the one keeping my distance and I was unaware of it. Being different has its pros and cons, and deciding what would reign would be up to the person.
Even if I badly want to, I can’t give specific comments on the characters without spoiling some important details, and this is an ARC review, so I hope you guys understand. There’s one thing that I could tell you, though. Lydia is a strong, strong person. I repeat. She is a strong person.
One-liners for characters would be okay, I guess. The parents didn’t want history to repeat itself. Nath is a dreamer. Hannah is one great observer, a smart girl whose ideas shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Also, Jack. Jack seemed to be one hell of a jerk, but no. (Sorry, that’s all that I can reveal!)
Sure, this book didn’t have the swoony feels that I usually look for, but it gave me the feels that I needed. The feels that would help me in the real world. This book felt so real. And I love that.
I started this book with a “WHOA.”
I finished reading it with a “WHOA.”
Mom, Dad, if you’re reading this (maybe you are, ’cause I know that you’re very supportive), thank you for letting me pursue my dreams and believing in my power to achieve them. I love you, so, so much. ❤
Everything I Never Told You is a book for those who feel that their family connection is not strong enough. Read the book and learn from it before it’s too late.
This book is also for those who have open communication in their family. Congratulations, people. And stay strong. Hope this book would help you understand each other more.
But at that moment she had known, with a certainty she would never feel about anything else in her life, that it was right, that she wanted this man in her life. Something inside her said, He understands. What it’s like to be different.
This is the first quote that I made a note on, found on the early chapters of the story. This was when Marilyn met James. I couldn’t help but highlight the quote, because the moment was described so perfectly.
…this was the first reason he came to love her: because she had blended in so perfectly, because she had seemed so completely and utterly at home.
This was James’ side. Why he fell for Marilyn. And the words were just…<3
I realize that I am not happy with the life I lead. I always had one kind of life in mind and things have turned out very differently.
These were Marilyn’s words, written on a note for James. It’s a sad note, actually. But I admire Marilyn’s strength here. She was brave enough to admit to herself that she’s not happy anymore. Her words were heart-breaking, but I understand. She needed a break from everything. I guess all of us, at some point in our lives, also do.
At last something important had occurred, something that she ought to write down. But she did not know how to explain what had happened, how everything had changed in just one day, how someone she loved so dearly could be there one minute, and the next minute: gone.
“She” refers to Lydia. Her mother was giving her diaries to write on every year, but she never used any of those. This quote is a general quote for loss, or even death. Marilyn left and the family was heart-broken. This was how Lydia felt. And I could almost feel the pain in these words, as I thought of the people that I have lost before.
…she does not break promises to people she loves. Even if they aren’t alive anymore.
The “she” here refers to Hannah. Being the youngest, born when Marilyn came back to the family, Hannah grew to be the most complex person in the family. She pays very close attention to details. This quote described how Hannah treated the promises that she made. And I think that we should all do this. Let us not break promises, not only to the people we love. Let us keep our promises to everyone, even if they aren’t alive anymore.
Lydia knew what they wanted so desperately, even when they didn’t ask. Every time, it seemed such a small thing to trade for their happiness.
This was where Lydia made a mistake. She became someone that she didn’t want to become, because she wanted her parents to be happy. At first it may sound heroic, like a sacrifice. But no. In the end, Lydia wouldn’t be able to take it. And look at what happened. If only Lydia had the courage to voice out her thoughts, things would have turned out differently.
…he would always make sure there was a place for her. She would always be able to say, Someone is coming. I am not alone.
Nath and Lydia were partners. Their bond was strong, and this quote described how close they were to one another. But when Lydia realized that Nath was leaving for college, she felt like Nath’s gonna leave her too. No. Leaving a place doesn’t equate to leaving the people that live there. I wish Lydia understood that. (But then, she’s a fictional character. I’m just this affected because Celeste’s writing made things very real, even if they really aren’t.)
It would be a little reminder that said I love you. You’re perfect just as you are.
This was when James gave Lydia a present–something that don’t happen to be books that are way too complicated (like her mother always gives as gifts) and that present meant something more than expectations.
“People decide what you’re like before they even get to know you. Kind of like you did with me. They think they know all about you. Except you’re never who they think you are.”
Lydia said this to Jack. I made a note on this quote because it’s so true, and it happens to almost everybody. I couldn’t agree more, you know. So there.
Maybe there’s no such thing as partners, she thought. From all her studying, this flashed through her mind: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. One went up and the other went down. One gained, the other lost. One escaped, the other one was trapped, forever.
Lydia thought of this because of Nath leaving. Another heart-breaking quotes, I guess.
“Just remember, school isn’t everything. It’s not as important as friendship, or love. Every time you look at this, just remember what really matters. Every time you look at this, I want you to smile. Promise?”
James said this to Lydia upon giving her a necklace. The quote is just so relatable. In just a few words, Celeste was able to stress out the things that really matter. Friendship. Love. Family.
You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing.
This quote struck me, hard. So listen, people. Too much of anything won’t do any good.
“At least I don’t let other people tell me what to do all the time. At least I’m not afraid.”
This became Lydia’s wake-up call. I told you, people. Jack’s not a jerk. You’ll understand more if you read the book. (So read it, guys. You won’t regret it.)
What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.
So, so true. Makes sense. So simple a quote, so deep a meaning.
My favorite quote:
There on the dock, Lydia made a new set of promises, this time to herself. She will begin again. She will tell her mother: enough. She will take down the posters and put away the books. If she fails physics, if she never becomes a doctor, it will be all right. She will tell her mother that. And she will tell her mother, too: it’s not too late. For anything. She will give her father back his necklace and his book. She will stop holding the silent phone to her ear; she will stop pretending to be someone she is not. From now on, she will do what she wants. Feet planted firmly on nothing, Lydia–so long enthralled by the dreams of others–could not yet imagine what that might be, but suddenly the universe glittered with possibilities. She will change everything. She will tell Jack she’s sorry, that she’ll never tell his secret. If he can be brave, so sure of who he is and what he wants, perhaps she can. too. She’ll tell him she understands. And Nath. She will tell him that it’s all right for him to leave. That she will be fine. That he’s not responsible for her anymore, that he doesn’t need to worry. And then she will let him go. And as she made this last promise, Lydia understood what to do. How to start everything over again, from the beginning, so she would never again be afraid to be alone. What she must do to seal her promises, to make them real.
This might be the longest quote that I’ll ever post about. I couldn’t cut a part, you know. This has to be read as a whole for everything to make sense. This was where I realized how strong Lydia was. I hope when you guys read the book, you’ll understand too. This book, particularly this quote made an impact on me. It made me stronger.
Cover: 4.5/5, It suggests a mysterious background and goes well with the title.
Title/Tagline: 5/5, So intriguing. The title was the one that caught my attention.
First Part: 4.5/5, I was surprised on the notes that I took. I made my theories on what happened. The first part was a flashback, a background story, and I like it.
Midpoint: 4.5/5, More notes. More highlights. This part slowly made me understand where everything came from–why things were like this or that. The midpoint really made me think. I had more theories, more suspicions. The story became more interesting.
Ending: 4.5/5, I love the ending. It all made sense, and actually, the ending was my favorite part. But there was something missing–something that I’m waiting for–that didn’t happen. So there.
Lesson/s: 5/5, This book talks a lot about family. Both children and parents would love this book because of the lessons implied–and maybe even find themselves in the characters. So, so relatable. It also touched a topic on racial discrimination, which is an issue nowadays. So yeah, there’s so much to learn from this book.
Character Development: 4/5, Pain made the characters grow, and I like that.
Uniqueness of the Plot: 5/5, I have never read a book like this one, but I’m glad that I did. I really am.
Overall Impact: 4.5/5
FINAL RATING: 4.61/5
My bookish song for Everything I Never Told You is:
Perfect by Simple Plan
This song is not 100% true to the book, but I have never heard one that’s any closer.
“Sorry, I can’t be perfect…”
(Sorry if it’s not as good as the others; I had a hard time singing the low notes. And please, don’t put the volume to 100% when listening. The instrumental is quite loud.)
Exposed secrets are dangerous, but untold secrets are deadly.