Review of Everything I Never Told You

Isabel Paez, Reporter


The following review contains spoilers for Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.


“Lydia is dead, but they don’t know this yet.”

So begins this tale about a mixed Chinese American family after the sudden death of Lydia Lee, the center of gravity for them. Seemingly perfect, smart, and sociable with plenty of friends and a bright future as a doctor. After the discovery of her body in the lake near their house the family is sucked into the black hole she left behind.

A void filled with questions as her parents find out she’s not who they thought she was. Her brother, Nathan, watches as the secrets he kept for her be revealed and her sister, Hannah, as always watches as her family goes on.

The revelation that Lydia didn’t have any friends and that she never wrote in any diaries her mother gifted her added with the things they already knew, her slipping grades, her growing unhappiness at her brother leaving for college soon, and the fact that she didn’t know how to swim was discombobulating. All of these discoveries raise questions as to who Lydia really was and what happened the night she died.

Which brings us back to the first of several mysteries, her death.

Who, if anyone, was responsible? What really happened?

But, its not the only thing that piques the interest of the audience.

There are others brought up and solved throughout the course of the book. Her mother’s, Marilyn, own disappearance years ago and her involvement with Jack the neighbor who’s notorious for hooking up with girls. With each of these solved you get a clearer look and understanding at each member of the family.

Of her mother, who wanted to become a doctor herself but fell in love and had children, unable to fulfill her dream of standing out, already made difficult from the society she lived in, telling her the way her life should be.

Her Father, the son of Chinese immigrants who was reminded constantly in little and big ways that he did not belong, he did not fit in.

How these two fell in love.

Her brother who was loved too little by his parents who showered Lydia in it, who wanted to reach the stars but for the meantime he helped his sister deal with the burden of their parents’ expectations.

Of her sister, quiet and overlooked to the point her mother sometimes forgets to set her seat at the table, lonely and longing to be out of the shadows but used to it.

And finally of Lydia, loved too much to the point where she was living her parents dream for them, for the sake of that love, growing miserable and resentful in the process.

The book is told through the perspectives of each family member, seeing through their eyes how differently shared events can impact them.

Ng’s usage of this method of story telling is very effective. By allowing you to see the characters thought process you can understand them. You understand the pain that they go through and why they hurt others in response to that pain.

It’s done especially well in laying bare the actions of each character without trying to persuade you to feel a certain way about them. It lays down the ugly side of each for you to see and decide for yourself if they are redeemable. You can follow their train of thought but that doesn’t mean it excuses where they ended up, that is up to you.

The story of each family member is so unique and yet they fit each other like pieces of a puzzle, all of which revolve back to her Lydia.

They’re all trying to understand her now that she’s gone. Its sobering to realize while reading this book that you can never truly know all of someone, that you might not even try to until it’s too late.

How when it is too late you can never truly with complete certainty know you got them right.

But there is a silver lining that even if it is too late to understand Lydia, its not too late for everyone else.

They start to recover and look at the remaining of their family anew.

Ng’s writing style is incredible, impactful lines dig at you and get under your skin.

From how she describes how Lydia’s parents complement each other.

“…More than anything, her mother wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father wanted to blend in. Because those things had been impossible.”

To when Nathan pushed Lydia into the lake once when they were younger.

“It would always feel too big. He pushed her in. And then he pulled her out. All her life, Lydia would remember one thing. All his life, Nath would remember another.”

These and more suck you in completely. Bring you in so close that the tragedy of it all feels more real.

The true reason that resulted in Lydia’s death is a bittersweet. It brings with it questions that will never be answered.

How did she feel in her last minutes when she realized the mistake she made? At what point did she regret?

Its gut wrenching realizing that something that she should’ve found empowering would be the end of her. Even more so is how her family will never know, how could they?

All of this leaves the reader filled with emotions as the book ends, not with a certain end but with a promise for a better future.

This book is one of the bests I’ve ever read, with the way it handles sensitive subjects such as grief, racism, and sexism and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something new to read.