|Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: An over-achiever is found dead leaving her grieving family with many questions, but very few answers.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: November 2014|
To understand Lydia’s death, we need to understand Lydia, and to understand Lydia we need to understand Lydia’s parents. Marilyn, who wanted more from her life than to play the dutiful housewife, who goes to college to study and realise her dreams, not to meet a man (her own mother’s dream for her), goes ahead and, well, she meets a man. That man is James, whose credentials for teaching American history are up for debate, but who nonetheless manages to overcome his background to secure a role doing just that. They settle down and have Nath, then Lydia, then a little while later, Hannah. An unusual family for 1970s Ohio, but a happy one. The children are bright, the home is cosy.
I increasingly find books about Chinese American heritage falling into my lap, and I've not found one I've not liked yet. This one fits in well with those that have come before it, offering up a perfect mix of Asian principles and contemporary American culture. The era adds another dimension and it is quite easy to feel immersed in the time, understanding the challenges James and the kids would be facing. When Nath goes to the off license, a man who has never met him before immediately knows who he is. He and Lydia are, after all, the only Oriental students in the high school. It's newsworthy enough when any 16 year old is found dead in unexplained circumstances, but play the race card too and a family go from unknown to unmistakable overnight.
A lot has been written about Chinese tiger mothers, pushy parents who want only the best for their gifted offspring. It's oft accepted that Caucasian children are lazy and lack discipline when compared to their Asian peers, and so this book is surprising in that it isn’t James who wants Lydia to succeed in school, topping the class, graduating early. In contrast, he wants her simply to be happy, popular, to fit in - all things that didn't apply to him during his own school days a few decades earlier. Lydia is also not the oldest, or even the brightest of the Lee children. Big brother Nath is academically good, accepted to an Ivy League college, looking to study sciences. He should rightfully be the focus of the parental pressure, but no, it’s Lydia. Because in Lydia, Marilyn sees herself. For Marilyn, it’s not about looks or dates to the prom or the latest fashions. She wants Lydia, needs Lydia, to be more than that, more than she herself was. It’s a similar feel to James, really, except Marilyn wants academic achievement and career success for her daughter, and she will do whatever it takes.
This book got its claws into me early on, and I devoured it. The writing style is marvellous, from the very beginning: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. And it just gets better and better. Flitting between the children as teenagers and their parents as teenagers, this book shows what has changed and what has stayed the same in terms of attitudes towards those who are different, be it a female scientist or someone from another ethnic background.
This book had me sobbing by the end. The final few chapters are gut wrenching and I cried for Lydia and her pain, and for Jack and his secrets, and for the Lee family as a whole, especially Nath whose success will now always be tinged with his sister’s sadness. I was a big snotty mess. The book was THAT good.
I’d like to thank the publishers for sending us a copy of a book I won't forget for a long while.
You can read more book reviews or buy Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng at Amazon.co.uk
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