Everything I Never Told You
By Celeste Ng
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143127550, May 2015, 320pp.)
The Short of It:
Tragedy sometimes brings people together. Sometimes it pushes them apart.
The Rest of It:
Surprisingly, this novel is called a literary thriller by some. A bit odd since we know from page one that Lydia is dead. I suppose the facts surrounding her death could make this a thriller, but I never considered it to be one.
When Lydia goes missing, her parents and siblings realize that they don’t really know who she hangs out with or what she does after school. She’s been leading a double-life in that what she portrays to her family, particularly her father, is a portrait of a popular, smart high school student when in fact she is not popular at all and not doing well in any of her classes.
This American-Asian family is trying to fit into a 1970’s small town Ohio neighborhood and their challenges are great. Of the three siblings, Lydia is the least Asian in appearance. Blonde with blue eyes but the rest of the kids get made fun of and although the father sees it, he chooses to ignore it thinking that what his kids need is a thicker skin, and to just work on being more popular. It’s a lot of pressure for them, especially Lydia which makes the reader question if her death is self-inflicted or something else.
What’s absolutely heartbreaking about this story is that even before Lydia’s death, this family had problems and her death seems to just bring them to the forefront. This family doesn’t communicate with one another. They don’t seem to fully understand or know what is going on in the family or if they do, they are in complete denial about it. There are a lot of missed opportunities to love one another, and that’s the real tragedy in this novel. And just when you want and hope for the parents to swoop in and be parents, they fail miserably and you are left shaking your head over it.It sounds so bleak and some of it is but there is some hope for a reader to cling to.
My book club discussed this and there was plenty to talk about. The topic of mixed marriage, ethnicity in general and the pressure for kids to perform were just a few things we discussed. Most of us felt that the author did a good job of going back and forth in time and sharing just a enough of each character’s perspective to get a feel for them without giving it all away. In that sense, there was an air of mystery to the story which made me want to turn the pages faster.
In summary, it was a pretty good read and gave us plenty to discuss.
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