“ A powerful and poignant read about familial relationships – a CUB must-read!”
In a small town in Ohio in the 1970s, Lydia Lee is the favourite child of James and Marilyn Lee. Her parents want her to fulfil the dreams that they could not achieve in their youths; Marilyn wants her daughter to become a doctor instead of a homemaker whilst James desires Lydia to be popular at school with numerous friends. On top of these parental pressures, Lydia also has to cope with the fact that her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and her and James’s ethnicity marks them out as different in their small town. When Lydia’s body is discovered in the local lake, her family is torn apart by grief. James is consumed with guilt and his reckless behaviour may jeopardise his marriage. Marilyn cannot comprehend how or why her daughter died but is determined to find someone responsible. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it is the youngest Lee sibling, Hannah, who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.
Despite the fact that this book is set in 1970s small-town America, the themes that resonate throughout it are so relevant in today’s world. Grief and loss. Sibling and familial relationships. The pressures on young people. This book explores so many issues and makes you think and reflect deeply about each and every one of them. The chapters flick back and forth between past and present, which gives you great character depth as you find out the histories of each character and how they got to be where they are now.
Whilst the flashbacks generate sympathy within you for both Marilyn and James being unable to achieve their dreams, you nevertheless dislike them for the huge pressures they place upon Lydia. Yes, they love their daughter, as any parent does, but it is the way they go about showing their love for Lydia that makes the book so tragic and certain scenes distressing to read; you feel Lydia’s pain and understand her struggles at trying to fill the moulds that her parents have created for her. That kind of parental pressure still exists in today’s society and witnessing it when reading Ng’s novel makes you want to say to ‘Stop’ to all those who pressure young people to be someone they’re not.
The sibling relationship between Nathan and Lydia is strained and impacted upon because of James’s and Marilyn’s expectations of Lydia and making her the centre of their attentions. This not only made me empathetic towards Nathan because he is constantly living in Lydia’s shadow, but it also caused me to reflect on my own sibling relationship. Relationships in general are fragile things and we have to work hard at them to make them last, but we also should not let them be influenced and damaged by others.
Although Hannah is the youngest in the family, she is wise and observant beyond her years. She notices the tiniest flicker in a person’s smile or a flinch in their eyes while it bypasses everyone else. It is because of her acute perception of others’ body language that she is able to understand and piece together what happened to Lydia.
Everything I Never Told You is a powerful and poignant novel that explores the ins and outs of familial relationships and the pressures upon young people, all set against the background of grief and loss. Celeste Ng has a deeply moving writing style that will remain with you long after you have closed the book.