Everything I Never Told You

8.5 Overall Score

Promising first novel

Sometimes the interesting aspect of the story is buried by the plot

Novel Info

Novel Title:   Everything I Never Told You

Publisher:   Penguin Press

Writer:   Celeste Ng

Release Date:   June 26, 2014

celeste ng author

Celeste Ng

Lydia Lee is dead.  When her body is found in a lake nearby her home, the sleepy Ohio town and her family question how it happened.  Was she murdered?  Did she commit suicide?  What happened in the last hours she was alive?  Growing up in the 1970s in as one of the town’s only Asian families (in a mixed-race marriage) wasn’t easy, but Lydia, her brother Nath, and their young sister Hannah all seem to have good lives in the eyes of their father James and their mother Marilyn…but looks can be deceiving.  Lydia’s death has created a ripple in the Lee family that will cause them to reexamine their lives in a search for the truth.

The premiere novel of Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You is a fiction novel by the Harvard graduate.  The novel was well received by critics and was the top winner of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year from 2014.  It has been optioned for a film by Academy Award nominated producer Michael De Luca.

When I go on vacation, I often try to find a novel indicative to the area I’m visiting (like Washington Square by Henry James for New York City at The Strand or Post Office by Charles Bukowski at City Lights in San Francisco).  Headed to Harvard, I tried to get a copy of The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand at the Harvard Bookstore (they were out), but instead I walked away with Everything I Never Told You as recommended by the bookseller who says Ng is active in the community and sometimes comes to the bookstore.  Though not extremely Harvard or Boston based (the characters go to school there), it was a good choice.

The novel is compared to The Lovely Bones by many.  This is an accurate comparison in how the story is told and unfolds.  The centerpiece of the book is the murder of Lydia Lee, but the book really breaks down into relationship and misunderstandings by the family.  What Nath knows and thinks is different than what Hannah knows and thinks.  What Marylin believes about Lydia isn’t what Lydia thinks.

everything i never told you cover celeste ng

Book Cover

The unveiling of the family secrets comes as almost a stream of consciousness style of storytelling but from a third person perspective.  This sometimes can be tricky because the characters thoughts jump without clean, concise reveals that they are going to jump so as a reader you have to be careful that you understand what is happening and where the thought process is headed.

The narration is highly tied to who is being followed in the story so it becomes a very selfish narration that is almost like a Rashomon tale.  The characters relate events and actions to themselves instead of seeing them independently and they misinterpret things as a result.  All the characters do this and because they aren’t talking directly to each other and have this selfish perspective things go sideways.

Everything I Never Told You is an interesting first novel.  I have to admit that I find the period aspect of race relations in the story more interesting than some of the actual story, and I think it feels like the meat of the novel.  It also takes a while to get to the perspective of Lydia and I kind of wish that we never got her perspective (or perhaps it was the last chapter of the story straight from Lydia).  Still, the book is strong and shows an interesting new voice.  Celeste Ng followed Everything I Never Told You with Little Fires Everywhere in 2017.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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