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Everything I Never Told You

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Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

297 pages, Hardcover

First published June 26, 2014

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About the author

Celeste Ng

16 books88.2k followers
Celeste Ng is the author of three novels, Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere, and Our Missing Hearts.

Her first novel, Everything I Never Told You (2014), was a New York Times bestseller, a
New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the ALA’s Alex Award. It has been translated into over thirty languages and is being adapted for the screen.

Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere (2017) was a #1 New York Times bestseller, a #1 Indie Next bestseller, and Amazon's Best Fiction Book of 2017. It was named a best book of the year by over 25 publications, the winner of the Ohioana Award and the Goodreads Readers Choice Award 2017 in Fiction, and spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.
Little Fires Everywhere has been published abroad in more than 30 languages and has been adapted as a limited series on Hulu, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington.

Her third novel, Our Missing Hearts, will be published on October 4, 2022.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She graduated from Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan). Her fiction and essays have appeared in the
New York Times, The Guardian, and many other publications, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among other honors.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 46,679 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
April 17, 2019
this book is absolutely perfect.

it's easily one of the best contemporary family dramas i have ever read, and i have read more than a few.

ng's prose is outstanding, and her characters are vibrant, completely three-dimensional, and the way their stories knot up in each other is superb.

it opens with the death of sixteen-year-old lydia, the beloved middle child of marilyn and james lee. marilyn and james are a mixed-race chinese/caucasian couple living in a small town in ohio in the seventies, where such relationships were still extremely uncommon. in the united states, anti-miscegenation laws were only declared to be unconstitutional by the supreme court in 1967, which is a little mind-boggling, but there it is.

race plays a role in the conflict(s) of the novel, but it's just one component in what is really a story of family dynamics.

How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia's mother and father, because of her mother's and father's mothers and fathers…Because more than anything, her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father had wanted to blend in. Because those things had been impossible.

marilyn grew up in virginia, the daughter of a home economics teacher who always wore gloves outside the house and whose greatest dream for her daughter was to meet a lot of wonderful Harvard men. marilyn has more ambitious plans - with her scholarship to radcliffe, her ultimate goal is med school, and she excels in her physics and chemistry classes, enduring the condescension of her all-male classmates (which is confusing to me, because in 1955, radcliffe was still an all-female school, as far as i know), in order to achieve her real objective - to end up nothing like her mother.

Late at night, bent over her textbooks while her roommate wound curlers into her hair and patted cold cream onto her cheeks and went to bed, Marilyn sipped double-strength tea and kept awake by picturing herself in a white doctor's coat, laying a cool hand against a feverish forehead, touching a stethoscope to a patient's chest. It was the furthest thing she could imagine from her mother's life, where sewing a neat hem was a laudable accomplishment and removing beet stains from a blouse was cause for celebration. Instead she would blunt pain and stanch bleeding and set bones. She would save lives. Yet in the end it happened just as her mother predicted: she met a man.

the man is james lee - fourth-year graduate student and marilyn's teacher for "The Cowboy in American Culture," who is, in the terminology of the day, an Oriental, specifically a Chinaman. after the very first class, marilyn goes to his office and kisses him. and from then on, they're together. which abruptness seems a little out of left-field, but it makes sense somehow. for her part, she thinks He understands. What it's like to be different. and he does. and his attraction to her comes from the completely opposite direction: because she had blended in so perfectly, because she had seemed so completely and utterly at home.


james' father had emigrated to america under a false name, after a ban had been placed on chinese immigrants. james was born in america but he always felt alien. at best a novelty, at worst the object of ridicule and casual racism. self-taught and trying to shed the stain of the immigrant; the shame of being the son of a janitor and a lunch lady, eating his mother's dumplings in a sea of privileged white faces, james had always been aiming for assimilation. lonely, friendless, unathletic, james has felt "other" his whole life. until america - in the shape of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman, accepts him - marries him despite the protestations of her mother.

this is probably too much detail tl;dr and all, but i am just so gobsmacked with how perfectly ng has set this family up to be doomed. this is thomas hardy-level cause and effect intricacy. and i'm not going to give too much away, this is just backstory - the real meat hasn't even been served up yet.

quickly, quickly, because there's still so much more to celebrate: they have three children, the first of which, nathan, effectively ends marilyn's career dreams. lydia is the middle child, dead on page one; the daughter each parent has hung their own missed opportunities upon - her father wants her to make friends, to be popular as he never was, and her mother wants her to have the academic success and career she gave up for her family. and then there's hannah. the youngest; an afterthought, frequently overlooked even when she is in the same room, but the keenest observer, and the only one able to see the big picture.

so the story is manyfold - finding out how lydia ended up at the bottom of a lake - and you will - this isn't one of those ambiguous endings, but although she is the center of the narrative, by the time all is revealed it almost doesn't matter. this book is more about character. where the idea of "family" is a character all its own. it's about the pressures put on children by parents, children wanting to please, parents making assumptions, siblings caught between jealousy and sympathy, infidelity and sacrifice, the poison of the american dream, racial identity, and what happens to a family after their lynchpin is removed.

everything about this book kicked my ass. each and every character had a story that was profound and devastating and i cried like a kitten on fire. which is very rare and always a delicious surprise.

the more i think about this book, the more i love it. so many tiny moments that splintered into my feeling bits. such quiet, understated scenes that are haunting me still.

i cannot believe this is her first book.
and i cannot wait for the next one.

too many feels, etc etc

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
September 13, 2015
“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”

This book is a fantastic character portrait. I don't read these kinds of stories too often - family dramas with a focus on the everyday - but when I do I'm usually pleasantly surprised. As much as I'm a lover of amazing story arcs with problems and terrifying consequences, there really is something so fascinating about... people.

A book that focuses on the dynamics between the members of an American family in the 1970s should be slow, and yet I finished this book in a single sitting. Probably because the characters are so rich and well-drawn. Celeste Ng has portrayed the intricate details of these people, of their relationships, of their complex web of contradictory emotions.

Ng opens with the statement "Lydia is dead". Then she delves into the lives of the Lee family as they learn of her disappearance and eventually have to deal with the loss of their beloved daughter and sister. The timeline of the novel skips from past to present, weaving in a history of the characters, gradually revealing the subtle ways this seemingly close-knit family do not know each other at all.

It is subtle, which actually makes it more dramatic, in my opinion. It incorporates sexism, racism and miscegenation, without becoming a story about any of them. This quiet book is so powerful and haunting in the complexity of its simple moments and interactions.

The central story of the book - Lydia's death - is a platform on which the author explores this family, because it is really about the lives of people. The way Marilyn and James fulfill a need for each other that goes beyond love - it's also a sense of belonging and understanding they can't find elsewhere. The layers of love, jealousy and quiet resentment between people. I don't know how an author manages to make the mundane so vivid and so fascinating.

I felt so emotionally pulled into this book that it seems weird to emerge into the real world and find that these characters are not real. I'm left with a lingering sadness and a need to read whatever Celeste Ng writes next.

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Profile Image for Colette.
194 reviews97 followers
July 8, 2014
Hmmmm.... Quintessential MFA graduate writing, which is to say lyrical creative prose that captures emotion in the details, following the MFA formula of "show; don't tell," to provide character exposition. The author shows us the interiority of her characters brilliantly- and then goes on to slam us over the head with explicit "telling" as if we're complete morons who can't figure it out for ourselves. Furthermore the themes that guide the relationships in this family are so over the top and one note ( I.e mother's vicarious ambition for daughter is an attempt to resurrect and fulfill her own thwarted aspirations) that the every exchange revolves around whatever singular force guides the particular relationship in a way that is exhaustingly heavy- handed. This interfered with enjoying the book and getting invested in the characters for me. Despite the beautiful writing I didn't believe for a minute that one of these characters was real and I didn't buy any if the relationships. They all felt like symbols or allegories almost the way characters in fairy take would. I craved a little more complexity and depth from the relationships in the family and although I couldn't put the book down, found myself feeling a little "meh" when I was finished.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
December 24, 2014
Gorgeously written. Really subtle storytelling but the tension built in a really excruciating, smart way that kept me holding my breath. I also love how Ng approached writing the challenges of identity and difference for both women and people of color, as well as how much the burden of expectations can truly weigh.
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews176k followers
May 8, 2017
finished this in one sitting! if you need me, i'll be over here bathing in my tears.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,309 reviews2,191 followers
December 23, 2014
I did not enjoy reading this book. The story of this broken family was just so sad and I found that the more I read, the harder it was to read. I felt a constant knot in my stomach .Yet I gave it four stars.

It’s the 1970's and James of Chinese descent, born in the U.S has since he was a young boy, just wanted to fit in. The racism he experiences through his life follows to present day and to his mixed race children. He focuses his need and desire to fit in on his middle daughter, Lydia. He wants her to be popular and have friends.

His wife Marilyn wants to stand out. She wanted to become a Doctor at a time when it was a man’s world and not easy for women to move into that world. She doesn't succeed and now is transferring her hopes and dreams and expectations on Lydia. Marilyn's lost dream seems like an obsession – she has now made it Lydia's dream, pushing her so hard, reading science books to a little girl instead of bedtime stories. Lydia did what her mother wanted because she didn’t want her mother to leave again as she once did in search of her dream.

What was so difficult was seeing James and Marilyn focus their attentions and their aspirations on their middle daughter Lydia while their oldest son Nath and youngest daughter Hannah suffer in silence - to say nothing of the impact of this attention on Lydia. It is through flashbacks that we learn about James’ and Marilyn’s pasts and how it has affected their children when the story returns to the present day.

While I felt for the parents and what they had gone through, my heart was broken for these children, as they transferred their hopes and dreams on their daughter and hurt all of them. My heart was broken for all of them but especially the youngest child, Hannah who is almost invisible to her family.

But yet, I gave it four stars because Ng has masterfully developed these characters and the story. We learn everything about them - inside and out. We know what they look like and we know how much they hurt, the pain they bear. I gave it four stars also because while I didn’t like the parents very much, I loved the children, and in the end felt that there might be some hope for Nath and Hannah in spite of the tragedy that befalls this family.
Profile Image for Cindy.
407 reviews116k followers
June 5, 2021
This book is a family portrait exploring how race and identity can affect the upbringing of children. The dynamics between the parents and children, and how they become fractured in their attempts (or lack thereof) to understand one another, are the main focus of the story. While I really enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere, I didn’t like this book as much. Besides not finding the characters to be engaging enough to hold my interest, my main gripe is that the messaging is very in-your-face. The characters’ inner conflicts are blatantly spelled out and obvious to the point where it borders exaggeration (i.e. the whole ordeal about the tear-stained cookbook to represent motherhood getting in the way of career goals). IMO, literary novels are more thought-provoking when they provide room for interpretation and give nuance to themes without trying to hammer down the messaging to the readers.
Profile Image for Regan.
457 reviews110k followers
June 9, 2023
I received this book for review from Penguin

Boy oh boy was I impressed by this book. Before I started reading it I was expecting something Lovely Bones esc. No. So much better.

This story is kicks off with the reader finding out about the death of the "favorite child" Lydia, with this I assumed it would just be an emotional book about finding the cause of death ect ect. Nope. But also yes. This book's scope is beyond what I was first expecting and branches off in so many directions as we follow the families' lives after and before the death of Lydia. This book is truly about "Everything I never Told You" the book focuses on each member of the family, their hopes, fears, dreams ect and how at so many important parts of their lives they never voiced any of it, and showed the consequences of doing so.

Additionally this book is set in the 1970's and deals with both race Identity and gender Identity.

This book was truly a treat and I will be doing a full review soon on my channel
Profile Image for Zoë.
328 reviews65.8k followers
January 3, 2019
What a wonderful book to start off the new year! This has been on my shelf for years, and I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner.
This story starts with a small seed - Lydia Lee is dead - and blossoms in every direction. Through non-linear perspective shifts, each member of Lydia's family deals with their grief in different ways, reflecting on their lives and filling us in on more of the mystery. We come to understand the expectations and dreams each had for themselves as well as Lydia and how damaging they can be.
I don't think this book will be for everyone as it's very character-focused with little plot driving it forward. Instead, we dive deeper into each character's psyche and examine the family's relationships with one another and themselves. If you're looking for a fast-paced mystery, this one isn't for you.
With all that being said, I loved it and highly recommend if you're looking for a historical mystery!
Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.7k followers
June 1, 2019
*3.5 stars*

There’s a quiet and almost simple beauty to Celeste Ng’s storytelling. She’s not a writer that relies on a breakneck pace or frilly overtures to capture readers. Instead, Ng employs the emotional beings that live among her pages and their relatable family dynamics to do the job. Each character takes a turn tiptoeing into the room, catching the reader almost unaware, and inciting a level of curiosity. Curiosity that morphs into a quest for answers in more ways than one.

Something to keep in mind, should you find yourself as eager to pick this book up as I was, this is not a plot-centric novel, but rather a slow-paced character study. The storyline delves into who these characters are to their very core and what experiences have fed into their outlook on life. Again, it's an unhurried but purposeful narrative.

Everything I Never Told You brings readers into the lives of the Lees, the lone Chinese American family living in small-town Ohio in the late 1970s. The story opens with the disappearance of the middle child, fifteen-year-old Lydia. Naturally, when the daughter they’ve pinned all of their hopes on—she’s the favorite—fails to show up to the breakfast table, the parents panic. Amongst the pain, following Lydia's demise, is the somber unraveling of things once held true.

Ng utilizes the Lee family to explore the intricacies of relationships when truths remain unsaid. When a misguided sense of self-preservation or a desire to spare feelings, allows thought and truth to remain unspoken.

“People decide what you’re like before they even get to know you.”

That message is the talisman I’m choosing to pocket from this experience. Those words are a simple reminder to stand up to the expectations and generalizations coming from every angle. Finding the confidence and gumption to make my voice heard is essential. I know, easier said than done in some situations, right?

This being my second experience with Celeste Ng’s work, I thought I knew what I was in for, but not quite. The cloyingly depressive nature of this storyline caught me a bit off guard. Which, I have to be honest, led to a longer read time than anticipated. On the days when I did succumb to the gentle tug of the pages, the Lees stole a tiny sliver of my sunshine. Still, while their reality is stifling at times, the overall message is one I can respect.

Even though this novel hasn’t earned a place among those I’ve deemed best-of-the-best, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the author’s next release. And, if you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out Little Fires Everywhere. If I'm being completely honest, I enjoyed that one a tad more. With that novel, Ng again explores the intricacies of relationships, namely between mothers and their daughters.

*Thanks to my lovely local library for the borrowed copy.
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,168 reviews37.3k followers
May 4, 2017
5 Stars.

Have you ever felt invisible? Like you were hiding in plain sight? Or like you just didn't measure up? Like you have to fake it till you make it? For the Lee family, this is par for the course, for each member of the family has felt one or more of these things at one time in their lives, if not for their entire lives.

James and Marilyn Lee are a Chinese-American couple with three children, Nath, Lydia and Hannah. Growing up Chinese in the 50's, James, was an outsider - he longed to fit in. To be like everyone else. To be accepted. Once he became a Professor of American History, he gave up. Then he met Marilyn, a white woman and she treated him no differently than anyone else. He finally felt at home. Marilyn always wanted to become a doctor and was studying to become one when she started dating James, got pregnant and they married. At once, the dreams she had for herself disappeared.

James and Marilyn, poured the hopes and dreams they had for themselves into their the first born daughter (and middle child), Lydia. They decided to live vicariously through her. James wanted Lydia to be the popular one, to have friends and go to school dances. Marilyn wanted Lydia to become a doctor so she bought her textbooks about biology and anatomy as birthday gifts and signed her up for extra classes whenever possible. Lydia was a people pleaser. She smiled expectantly. Said yes whenever her mother asked her a question. She pasted a smile on her face and pretended. Day after day after day. And then one day, when Lydia was sixteen, she was found dead.

Nath, Lydia's older brother was a straight-A student. Admitted to the Harvard class of 1981. Though he was the best student, he never measured up to his father's ideals. He was never enough.. and was always an embarrassment. And Lydia? She always came first, she was always the child his parents sought out first, showed attention to, provided affection to and showed interest in. Nath came second. And while he may have understood how his sister felt about his parents and the attention they showed her, he couldn't help but be jealous.

What about Hannah, you ask? Well, she truly was invisible. Her parents hardly ever noticed her. She was an after thought. Lydia barely addressed her and Nath had no time for her, that is until after Lydia, well, until after.

Everything I Never Told You is the heartbreaking examination and devastating portrayal of a Chinese-American family who are strangers to each other, of parents who never take the time to get to know their children and who let their kids slip away from them, one by one.

Celeste Ng's novel haunts you. Her words are achingly beautiful, and they evoke such emotion. This novel made me angry and sad all at once. Sad that James and Marilyn didn't have any idea who their children were, sad that Lydia couldn't be who she wanted to be, sad that Hannah had no one to show her affection, pay attention to her and let her know what it was like to be loved. Angry. Angry at both Marilyn and James for being so short sighted and selfish. Just so angry that these parents never noticed their own children. It is to Ms. Ng's immense talent that she brought forth these emotions from me. I wanted to shout at Marilyn and James. About how apathetic they were, about how they disgusted me, but alas, I did not.

In case you couldn't tell, I loved this book. I imagine that it will bother me for a long time to come. These characters will haunt me. Especially Hannah. In my dreams, she is no longer invisible. In my dreams, she knows what it feels like to be loved.

A huge thank you to my GR friend Linda who read this a month ago. Your review made me want to read this one. You were right. It was amazing!!

Published on Goodreads and Amazon on 3/12/17.
Profile Image for emma.
1,872 reviews54.8k followers
December 13, 2022
I can't believe it took me this long to read a book by Celeste Ng.

This book, as the saying goes, has EVERYTHING. Mysterious deaths. Family drama. History. Clandestine relationships. Secrets. It's #OwnVoices and it's literary fiction, which have been the two categories I can't get enough of so far this year. It's somehow captivating and unputdownable while being quiet and real.

It is, in short, extremely good and an all around dreamy read to me.

Ms. Ng, I am so sorry that I have wronged you by waiting so long.

Bottom line: Don't make my mistakes!!! Read this. Now. (In case you somehow haven't yet.)
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,067 reviews1,906 followers
March 15, 2017
"Ability to swim is preservation of life."

These aren't the book's words, they're my sister's words. And they are true words, words I think of every time I swim. I am always reminded a tiny bit of my sister when I swim. You need to know how to swim, it is vital to survival. My grandmother was terrified of swimming, of open water, of pools. She never learned how to swim. But she made all of her six children learn how to swim, she carted them to swimming lessons every week during the summer, and all her children became accomplished swimmers with a lifelong love of the water. My grandmother knew the importance of learning to swim. She didn't want to risk her children ever drowning in an ocean, lake, or pool.


That has next to nothing to do with the book, although a drowned girl is at the center of the novel.

Here's the first sentence of the book.

Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet.

This opening sentence leads you to believe that this book is about a dead girl (15 or 16) and why she died, what effect her death had on her family, grief, etc. etc.

That is complete bullshit.

What this book is ACTUALLY about is a family of mopey whiny sadsacks who enjoy wallowing in misery. This is before Lydia dies, I'm saying. They are like this before she even dies.

The book also teaches us that life sucks, people suck, the world sucks, and that life is misery.

What a horrible, hateful, damaging message. I can't believe this shit.

Let's work through the MCs one by one.

James Lee, son of Chinese immigrants. He hates being Chinese-American. He spends his whole life trying to "fit in" and "be white" and be an "average" (read: white) American. He becomes a professor of American History, for goodness sake, because America and "being normal" are all-important to him. He has a HUGE inferiority complex about being Chinese-American and is absolutely convinced that everyone is hating him and judging him for being Chinese-American, even when they're not. He's ashamed of his own parents (who worked their fingers TO THE BONE in order for him to get an education and put a roof over his head), and actually doesn't even tell his wife that his dad was a janitor because he's so ashamed of his own father.

He hates his oldest son, Nath. Because Nath reminds him of himself. He sees Nath being bullied, and he hates Nath for it - not the bullies. He wishes his son would be less "sensitive" and more "average football player." He wants his son to be popular and the fact that his son is not very popular makes him furious.

Nath loves outer space and astronauts. He gets top grades and is going to Harvard. Once in the book, James strikes his son Nath across the face for babbling happily about astronauts. He constantly mocks his son and belittles him for being too nerdy.

To top all this off,

He loves his oldest daughter Lydia the best, basically because she has blonde hair and blue eyes and he sees her as having the chance to become "normal" or "a true American" or whatever racist shit he's got in his head.

He's a piece of shit, and a pathetic, sorrowful excuse for a human being.

Since Marilyn's mother loved keeping house and looking pretty, Marilyn's bound and determined to become a doctor. That's thwarted when she starts sleeping with Chinese-American James Lee - the only man she feels is "different" - he's not judging her for wanting to become a doctor and he doesn't sexually harass her. (It's the 1950s). She ends up pregnant and there go her dreams of becoming a doctor.

She loves Lydia best, the best of all her children. Basically because she thinks she can mold Lydia into a doctor, which will fulfill Marilyn's dreams by proxy. She ignores her other two children, Nath and Hannah. Her constant force and harping on Lydia about studying, science and math are making her daughter's life a living hell.

She completely abandons her family for a month at one point. I won't tell you why, but it sure didn't make me feel any better about her.


Nath is constantly sad and depressed that his family loves Lydia best. He dreams of going away to Harvard. He knows Lydia relies on him to help her get through the hell of being "loved best," but he cruelly starts cutting ties with her because he has to get out of this house where he's either ignored, or mocked.


The youngest, Hannah, is one of the only "good" characters (read: not whiny, pathetic, or a piece of shit) - and I wonder if this is solely because she's so young.

She is completely ignored by every single person in her family to the point where she is rendered almost invisible. But unlike the other characters, she doesn't embrace this misery and wallow in pity, instead she turns herself into a sort of fairy - taking objects from her family members that they'll never miss and cherishing them, eavesdropping on her beloved family's conversations, and watching everyone's faces and actions minutely in order to know their secret lives and innermost thoughts.

She's a charming little sprite, but barely in the book. When she was there, it was a blessed relief.

The only other good, kind character is Officer Fiske, who is investigating Lydia's death. He's barely in the novel (even less than Hannah).

Tl;dr - This book is a maudlin, weepy, self-pitying piece of tripe. It is full of characters who are not only miserable, but hold misery close to them and stroke it, nurturing it and cherishing it (including the dead girl Lydia herself. But I left out her character analysis to avoid spoilers). It's sick. This one-star rating is NOT because Ng is a "bad writer," she is not. Instead, it's due to the subject matter, the plot, and the overall message of the book, which is "life sucks, people suck, life is misery" etc. etc. I don't have the time for this shit. This isn't entertaining or educational or enlightening in any way, it's just a celebration of how sad and miserable and pathetic people can choose to be. No thanks, I'll pass.

Teach your children to swim - it will save their lives.

P.S. and I can't help feel that we, as a society, are becoming obsessed with romanticizing drowned girls.

Look at this:

Still Waters by Emma Carlson Berne

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Envy (Empty Coffin, #1) by Gregg Olsen

Displacement by Thalia Chaltas

Insight by Diana Greenwood

Haunting Violet (Haunting Violet, #1) by Alyxandra Harvey

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1) by Michelle Hodkin

I could go on and on. WTF is up with this? Drowned girls are not "romantic" or "pretty" or "sexy" or "beautifully tragic" or some shit. Cut it out.
Profile Image for jv poore.
616 reviews215 followers
January 4, 2023
Everything I Never Told You is the Faberge Egg of literature. As a whole it is breathtakingly beautiful. Viewing details closely and from different perspectives; unique gems are revealed. While stunning unto themselves; they become totally transformed when part of the whole.

This is the most heart-breaking book I’ve ever read. Actually painful. As the gloss wears down, and the truth trickles out, the ache began…gnawing in the pit of my stomach….knowing where this was going, hoping that it couldn’t be heading in that direction, but knowing that there really is only one path.

Not to say the story is predictable….the opposite is true….there are clever twists…..much like the old science lesson as to what is really “full”…..there are times when the reader is convinced that the complete story has been strung out, in vivid Technicolor with all of the lines connected….only to feel almost sheepish when Ms. Ng subtly spills secrets that snap the picture into a totally unanticipated focus.

Never have I seen a situation from all sides so clearly. Intuitively, I would expect to have a sure opinion at the end. Knowing all of the facts, it should be simple to identify the “bad” guy(s), the “good” guy(s), the mistakes, people acting selflessly alongside those with only mal intent. Sort it out, point the finger, assign the blame, perhaps feel a bit righteous and move on.

But, this book….it’s like real life and it just doesn’t work like that it. The answers don’t shake out neatly into two columns and there are no promises, no guarantees. Each of us has seen a person exert little to no effort, yet reap great rewards and on the other side of the coin, we’ve all seen the person put his whole heart and mind into goal, but not achieve success.

Ms. Ng puts pen to paper in the most generous, considerate, thoughtful and eloquent way and gives us the Lee family. And immediately takes young Lydia away. After artfully creating the glaring absence, Ms. Ng truly introduces Lydia to us and we begin to understand her, admire her and then feel for her.

Everything I Never Told You is simultaneously a fantastically phenomenal book filled with gorgeous, thoughtful prose and clever, cutting comments; and an imperative example of what is truly heart-breaking. I whole-heartedly recommend this to everyone.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews50 followers
October 7, 2021
Everything i never told you, Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng is an American writer and novelist. She has released many short stories that have been published in a variety of literary journals.

Ng's first novel, "Everything I Never Told You", was released on June 26, 2014 and has won many awards such as Amazon Book of the year as well as praise from critics.

Ng's short story "Girls at Play" won a Pushcart Prize in 2012.

On May 3, 1977, Lydia Lee, the middle child of the Lee family is missing. After several days, her body is dredged out of the town lake.

Lydia's parents, James and Marilyn, are horrified by their daughter's death.

As the police investigate, her parents discover that contrary to their belief that Lydia was popular and doing well in school, she was actually a loner with almost no friends and that her grades had severely slipped.

The death of their child leads James and Marilyn to reflect on their lives. James, the academically gifted child of Chinese immigrants, spent his life yearning to belong.

He met Marilyn in 1957 when he was a doctoral candidate at Harvard teaching a class on American culture in which she was a student.

After graduation, James failed to secure a faculty position at Harvard, so accepted an offer from the fictional Middlewood College in Ohio.

Marilyn grew up disgusted by her homemaker mother (who taught home economics in her high school) and longed to become a doctor.

When she met James and recognized the racist treatment he had been enduring, Marilyn felt a kinship with him and the two began a relationship.

Discovering she was pregnant, she arranged for a quick marriage to James and was angry when her mother tried to stop the wedding after seeing that James is of Asian descent.

Marilyn intended to resume her studies to become a doctor after her son, Nathan, was born, but after a second pregnancy, with Lydia, she remained a homemaker for eight years.

Upon receiving news of her estranged mother's death, Marilyn returned to her childhood home in Virginia to deal with her mother's possessions only to realize that she has become the homemaker her mother always desired. Marilyn abandons the family in order to pursue her academic studies.

James believes that she has left because he and the children are Asian and that she no longer wants to deal with the societal pressure of being outsiders.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش داستان: روز بیست و نهم ماه ژانویه سال 2015میلادی

عنوان: تمام آنچه که هرگز به تو نگفتم؛ نویسنده: سلست ان.جی؛ مترجم: مرضیه خسروی؛ تهران، کتاب کوله پشتی، 1394، در 286ص؛ شابک9786007642665؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م

داستان عشق، و آرزوهایی است، که هرگزی، بر زبان نمیآیند، و تنها پس از درگذشت است، که بازماندگان، آن عشقها، و آرزوها را، در میان یادگاریها و یادمانهای عزیزان خویش، مییابند؛ «لیدیا» درگذشته اما هنوز کسی نمیداند

داستان با این راستی سنگین و ساده و سهمگین آغاز میشود؛ و سپس روایتی از دختر نوجوانی را بازمیگوید، که در خانواده ای «آمریکایی-چینی»، به دنیا آمده، دختری که برای نگهبانب از جمع خانوادگی، و در کنار خویش داشتن مادرش، سالها فداکاری میکند، اما دیگر تاب زندگی در چنان خانواده ای را نمیآورد، خانواده ای که به خاطر تفاوتهای فرهنگی خویش، با جامعه ی آمریکای دهه شصت و هفتاد سده بیستم میلادی، خود را منزوی کرده اند؛ و نمیتوانند با دیگران رابطه برقرار کنند؛ «تمام آنچه که هرگز به تو نگفتم» بیانگر عدم درک خواسته ها، و آرزوهایی است، که موجب میشود اعضای خانواده از هم دورتر شوند، بیایید هماره همدیگر را ببخشیم؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 04/09/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 14/07/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews9,006 followers
October 23, 2017
This is a dark drama. I did not find much hope in the story. Maybe others will disagree, but it is a fairly depressing story.

It was still a good book, even if my mood grew darker as the story went along. I think that the overall story was interesting and the relationships in the story are written well. Also, the development along the way is fascinating even if gloomy.

There is a lot of poorly defined time jumping, but, while that has bothered me in other books, I was okay with it here. Somehow I managed to quickly realign my thought process when I suddenly realized I was elsewhere in the time line.

The time period of this book is the late 1970s. The main reason I am thinking that they did this is that the social opinion at that time on mixed-race marriage and people was not as accepting as it is now. If this had been written in modern day, a lot of the fear and desperation caused by this would not have been there.

I cannot say that I would recommend this book because it is so dark and depressing and I wonder what people might think (i.e. “Why does Matthew think I would like this sad book? What must he think of me!??”). But, if you are interested in stories with serious family drama, this is the book for you.
Profile Image for Beata.
756 reviews1,160 followers
December 5, 2019
One of the most upsetting novels I've read this year... Ms Ng portrays the Lee family masterfully, leading the reader through the minds and feelings of her characters and their development. It seems there is not a single sentence which is unnecessary. And the narration is exquisite!
Profile Image for Julie .
4,080 reviews59k followers
February 21, 2018
Everything I Knew Told Your by Celeste Ng is a 2015 Penguin Books publication.

As I began this book, my mind was a clean slate, with absolutely no preconceived ideas about it, so I was really surprised by it, and stunned by my emotional response to it. Once I started it, I literally did not move from the couch until I had turned the last page.

One of the main topics addressed here is the interracial marriage between a white woman, Marilyn, and an American Chinese man, James, who marry in the late 1950's, at a time when such an occurrence was very rare.

While this is a huge theme in the story and it is referred to often, I also picked up on the unhappiness I am sure many women like Marilyn felt in this time frame. Marilyn was smart, very smart, and wanted to be a doctor, (not a nurse), in a time when this too was very rare. Determined to have her cake and eat it to, she married the man she was in love with and started a family, but her career never materialized as planned. Marilyn eventually accepts her dream is never going to come to fruition and so it is her oldest daughter, Lydia, who must make up for this failing.

So, when Lydia disappears her parents are absolutely destroyed, and long buried feelings of resentment bubble to the surface and expose the cracks in this seemingly well adjusted and happy family.

It is hard to pinpoint who is the saddest character in the story. Lydia of course was a character that really struck a cord with me on a personal level. I know that pressure to live up to expectations you have no way of achieving, no matter how hard you work at it. Sometimes, we are are not born with the talents our parents possess and when you are supposed to live out their dream, failure to measure up is simply unacceptable.

Nath's character is hard to relate to at times. He's a guy, so his emotions are often masked in anger and bitterness. He desperately wants his father to support him and show pride in his son's rather impressive achievements, an area in which James failed utterly. Therefore, when Nath sees himself gaining an edge on Lydia, he turns away from her in hopes of finally getting a nod of approval from his father.

Then there is Hannah, the youngest child, who observes the family from afar and sees things more clearly than anyone else, but is often baffled by the actions of her family members. My heart ached for this poor neglected child who settled for crumbs thrown her way, but was just flat out lost in the shuffle, and perhaps Marilyn resented Hannah too, since Hannah's entry into the world effectively killed Marilyn's last ditch effort to finish school and achieve her career goals.

Then there is Marilyn whose character is both over the top and sad, a woman unfulfilled, terrified of ending up like her mother, while she is trapped in the same role of being a housewife and mom, she becomes so obsessed in her determination to save Lydia from this fate, she creates a toxic family atmosphere that is unhealthy for everyone and it ultimately backfires on her in a most awful, gut wrenching way.

James is just too passive. He never stands up to Marilyn, they never talk about things, he doesn't stand up for his children and I really couldn't understand what Marilyn saw in him. I was not impressed with him in any way until the very end when he appears to have a life altering epiphany that saves them all from total ruin.

So, the race issue is of course running in the background because it can't be ignored. The children born into an interracial marriage were thought to have special difficulty finding where they fit in. It was hard to make friends, to be involved in social activities and a plethora of other issues. James was of course particularly sensitive to race issues, and Nath also took racism to heart, but it is not a topic discussed within the family and Marilyn never makes an issue of it until her daughter disappears.

However, I am not convinced in any way that being in an interracial family was at the root of Lydia's issues, but it was easier to place the blame on race than to take a long hard look at themselves. Outsiders, not knowing the general make up within the family were quick to hypothesize, but ultimately I felt it was more Marilyn's tunnel vision that led Lydia to a pinnacle of supreme agony, she simply couldn't cope with.

This story is sad, emotional, but utterly absorbing, and beautifully written. My heart went out to all the characters in the book, some of whom I felt more keenly for than others, but I still wanted them to come out in tact, even if they will never be completely whole again. The Lee's will soldier on, believing in second chances, and learning from their past mistakes. This is a very thought provoking and compelling read, a cautionary tale, ending with a message of hope and the promise of better days to come. 5 stars
Profile Image for Whitney Atkinson.
943 reviews14k followers
June 3, 2018
4.5 Stars

This book offers one of the coolest family/character explorations I've ever read. I love books that dive into characters' morally grey area, and this was especially interesting because each character's perspective on their family member's death was so distinct. I felt for every character on the page and there was never a dull moment. This was really masterfully made and well fleshed out, and it was as gorgeous as it was tragic. The audiobook for this was great and the writing style was definitely memorable. If you're looking to get into adult fiction and aren't sure where to start, this one definitely makes you think but is still short enough and interesting enough to keep you flying through the pages.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,487 reviews7,786 followers
July 10, 2015
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

“They will dissect this last evening for years to come. What had they missed that they should have seen? What small gesture, forgotten, might have changed everything? They will pick it down to the bones, wondering how this had all gone so wrong, and they will never be sure.”

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Hrrrrrrrrm. Good news is, I don’t think it’s necessarily only me this time.

The problem for me with Everything I Never Told You was with the characters. I don’t mind unsympathetic characters and I most certainly don’t mind dark subject matter (you could say it’s kind of my forté). What I do mind is feeling nothing – nada – ZILCH for the people I’m reading about.

The book begins with a dead teenager. While the family is unaware of said death, it doesn’t take them long to get filled in. Now, if you’re thinking this is going to be some kind of awesome mystery/thriller – you’ve got the wrong book. Basically this is a family study of the history of Marilyn and James Lee, their marriage, and their children. Bonus for me – my senile brain actually remembered that plot point even though I was on hold for my library copy for umpteen weeks. Unfortunately as I stated above, I still couldn’t get on board with the story . . . .

Houston commercial photography

While the majority of the book simply didn’t work for me, I did enjoy the subtle pop culture references that served as a reminder that the book was set in the 1970s and the fact that it was the white member of the bi-racial family rather than the Asian who was dead set on overachievement. Seriously – that racial stereotype has been done to death and needs to just burn in a fiery pit in hell.

I understand many loved this book, so definitely don’t remove it from your TBR based on my review. The good news is, even if you end up finding it “meh” like I did it’s short and reads extremely fast. As for anyone who is even thinking about asking me how I couldn’t loooooove this one or who might be drafting a comment that informs me I read this wrong? Don’t . . . .

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Profile Image for Baba.
3,621 reviews991 followers
October 24, 2021
2020 review: Blond Marilyn is married to American-Chinese James Lee, living in small-town Ohio, with their three children, oldest Nathan, almost sixteen Lydia, and the youngest Hannah - I say three children, because they didn't know Lydia was dead yet!

The book captures from the parents first meeting, to the months after Lydia's passing, by moving from each member of the family (including Lydia) as they recollect their connected pasts, the days leading up to Lydia's death and then what follows. It's less a sad story, as a story about family, family secrets and denials, mixed race families living in White spaces and above all, dreams, ambition and what we want from our children, and why.

Celeste Ng's debut book (Amazon's Best Book 2014!) is an understated pile-driver of a read that isn't afraid to ask really uncomfortable questions about the processing of the death of a family member, racial intolerance, child rearing, and the impact of adult behaviours on children. Ng nails the individual characters and voices of the family well, and in under 300 pages lays each and everyone of them bare and transparent to the reader. An exceptional debut. 9 out of 12. Another one of those books, that I can't wait to read again!
Profile Image for Felice Laverne.
Author 1 book3,229 followers
February 12, 2020
"How suffocating it is to be loved that much."

Everything I Never Told You centers around the Lee family: James, the Chinese-American professor who lectures on the epitome of what was never attainable for him—true Americanism—Marilyn, the blond wife who’d always dreamed of being a doctor when female doctors were a rare phenomenon only to turn out just what her mother had hoped and what Marilyn had always wished to avoid, and their three children, Nathan, Lydia and Hannah. James and Marilyn focus all of their attention on Lydia who they are determined to mold into everything that they were never able to achieve themselves, creating a crushing pressure for her that comes from both sides. When she dies unexpectedly, the glue that holds them all together is no longer able to hold. As they try to learn what happened to her—and why—they come to realize that she was not the girl they thought she was. The reader is allowed to learn this before the family does, which creates a beautiful inside glimpse of a family crumbling.

Everything I Never Told You is about just that: the subtle nuances and emotions that go unsaid, the familial tension behind closed doors that goes unnoticed, unexplored, and the way that our lineage and upbringing shape our lives, for better or for worse. Gripping in its portrayal of dreams deferred and hopes crushed, of coming of age in the 60s and 70s, of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) cruelties of the world and of the ignorance of those who would rather mock than understand, Everything was an exploration of the overwhelming pressure of a family’s love and expectations—both for themselves and for their children. Despite the fact that this one had a few moments of lethargy at the start, it all came together beautifully, and the last half or so of the novel I finished in one sitting. This novel, all told, was a bold and shattering glimpse into reality for all of the characters involved. It was the historical and ancestral short-fallings, misgivings and dreams unrealized that brought this book to a head in the most lovely way. It was chilling in its honest and straight-forward depiction of challenges with fitting in, with being oneself, all wrapped into beautiful little metaphors that were easy to hold…and easy to crush: a Betty Crocker cookbook, a white doctor’s coat, cowboys, a silver locket.

“Different” was the connective tissue here. The characters’ differences from those of the outside world and in the incongruousness of their perception of themselves versus what others saw were so well developed that the feeling of discomfort (both in their lives and in their minds) was palpable, creating a need to continue turning the pages. Ng portrayed their longing here brilliantly—longing to be someone else, to be free.

“Sometimes you almost forgot: that you didn’t look like everyone else…you saw it in the little boys on the playground, stretching their eyes to slits with their fingers—Chinese—Japanese—look at these—and in the older boys who muttered ching chong ching chong ching as they passed you on the street, just loud enough for you to hear…and tried to forget about it. And you did, until it happened again.”

Ng was not forceful with her hand, but allowed those things unsaid, undone, unnoticed, to tell the story in its way of delicate nuances. The snatching off of a locket here, the touching of ones finger to tongue there. It was those subtleties that the reader had to catch, or they’d miss something integral. Characterized by lovely narrative prose, Ng’s MFA background stood out and was on full display in a way that showed spirit and depth. Mellifluous, introspective and refined, it dug into the very soul of what it means, what it must feel like, to be different. 5 stars. *****


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Profile Image for Cheri.
1,802 reviews2,385 followers
February 6, 2018
4.5 Stars

”Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”

This is how the book begins. They hit like a punch, knocking the wind out of you, these first sentences. And yet, while this part of the story runs throughout these pages, each person viewing the circumstances that led to her death in their own, inimitable way, this is the story of the years before, of all that led up to this day for each of the family members, and those whose lives they touch. Each relationship completely different from another, separate, unique.

To her mother, Marilyn - a disappointment to her own mother significant enough for a wedge to form on the day of her wedding, never to speak to one another again - Lydia is her hope that all of her hopes and dreams that didn’t come true will come true in Lydia. She has raised her to want to be what she, herself wanted to become – a doctor, but never did.

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

To her father, James, the son of Chinese immigrants, born in the US, he wanted nothing more than for Lydia - for all his children - to blend in, to not be noticed for their differences, to be accepted. He is a professor of American History at Middlebury College in Ohio.

Nath, the oldest, had always been there for Lydia, in his own way. He resented, but became used to the way his accomplishments were overlooked as his parents shined all their light on Lydia. He loved her, looked out for her, but he was looking forward to college, to getting away from home with no hope of escaping second place, at best.

”Dreaming of his future, he no longer heard all the things she did not say.”

Lydia, the middle child, the one her family had pinned their hopes and dreams on, not that she’d wanted that; not that she hadn’t bent to the point of breaking over the pressure of that expectation. Too afraid to shatter her mother’s hopes and dreams for her, by admitting they were not her own hopes and dreams. And so, in her own way, Lydia, who she really is, how she really feels, shrinks to invisibility, lost to all that her mother wants and needs for her to be.

Hannah was the youngest, an afterthought, perhaps, or really more a delayed surprise, her mother had become so accustomed to life as it was that sometimes she forgot all about Hannah.

” And what about Hannah? They set up her nursery in the bedroom is the attic, where things that were not wanted were kept, and even when she got older, now and then each of them would forget, fleetingly, that she existed – as when Marilyn, setting four plates for dinner one night, did not realize her omission until Hannah reached the table. Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corner, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.”

In some ways, reading this felt almost like reading the personal diaries of this family, these people. Their innermost, unfiltered thoughts, their disappointments, their hurt, their anger, their passion, their hopes and dreams are all opened to view. Ng manages to show you their thoughts and feelings so slowly and delicately revealing each layer as though she’s performing a sacred ritual. Your heart goes out to them, even when they are not all particularly likeable. But the children… my heart is still breaking.

Recently, I read Ng’s ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ which I really enjoyed, but even though the stories are heartbreaking in ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ and ‘Everything I Never Told You’ there’s a quality that I found in this book that I missed in her newest, a lovely ethereal quality of this story, in the sharing of the thoughts of this family. It reminded me a bit of reading Eliza Henry-Jones ‘In the Quiet” which I also loved.


Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,016 followers
March 7, 2015
4.5 stars

Let me tell you: Everything I Never Told You belongs on my imaginary "omg-omg-omg" shelf. Some books spin me into a hazy trance, while others wrap up my attention with such ferocity that I have no choice but to whisper-scream "omg-omg-omg" as I read them. Celeste Ng's sharp storytelling, three-dimensional characters, and incisive writing all made me say "omg-omg-omg" over and over throughout her debut novel, something I have not done for at least a month.

Lydia is dead, but her family does not know that yet. Lydia, the brightest and whitest of the mixed race Lee children, faces the brunt of her parents' expectations: her mother dreams that she will fulfill her own lost ambition of going to medical school, while her father wants her to have all the popularity he could never possess. Nathan, Lydia's Harvard-bound, space-obsessed older brother, and Hannah, Lydia's ghost-like younger sister, both get ignored by their parents while Lydia takes center stage. But when Lydia is found at the bottom of a lake in their small Ohio town, the Lee family gets thrown into chaos, where they will learn about all the secrets they each have ever kept, or they will lose the ties that had bonded them forever.

The characters in this book pulsated through its pages. Marilyn, James, Lydia, Nath, and Hannah all had believable, fleshed-out backstories that drew my interest and broke my heart. We see Marilyn and James project their unfulfilled desires onto their children; we view Lydia, Nath, and Hannah struggle to bear the weight of their parents' standards; we watch as Lydia's death tears them all asunder. Ng delves into each character's perspective with precision and style, and she pulls their stories together to make a heart-wrenching whole.

I appreciated how Ng tackled issues of race, womanhood, and identity in Everything I Never Told You. She gives Marilyn all the ambition and intellect in the world, then thwarts her without blinking an eye. She supplies James with enough insecurity to sink a ship, then provdes him with an attractive, Asian graduate student to sublimate his grief. Ng shows the intergenerational effects of Asian-American assimilation and the inherent struggles of fitting in and standing out at the same time.

Overall, a wonderful, emotion-filled contemporary drama packed with powerful relationships and an intriguing, sorrowful mystery. I would recommend it to fans of adult fiction focused on familial relationships, as well as to fans of Jodi Picoult and Amy Tan. Everything I Never Told You made me whisper-scream "omg-omg-omg" without stop, and I hope it does the same to you, too.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
764 reviews573 followers
July 9, 2021
Although I enjoyed Celeste Ng's novel, Little Fires Everywhere, I was entranced by this debut novel of hers! Like my Goodreads friend, Nancy, would say, it's a "domestic drama with a touch of mystery".

A strong character-driven novel that revolves around the tragic death of eldest daughter, Lydia, it
recounts feelings and events from the 1950s to the 1970s. Each family members' perceptions are revealed, layer by layer, as the story unfolds, leading up to Lydia's death and beyond.

Parents, James and Marilyn, have covertly opposing values for raising their children, most notably, Lydia. These people are realistically-flawed - my empathy for them would often waver. As for their children, Nathan, Lydia, and especially Hannah, sometimes I would groan inwardly from sadness and disbelief as I listened to their stories.

You many need to have some Kleenex handy for this heartbreaking story about family, loss, grief, forgiveness and hope. If you enjoy reading books with deeply fleshed-out characters, then I highly recommend this novel!

Audiobook narrator, Cassandra Campbell, was incredibly realistic! Her "voices" did not distract me in the least!
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,325 followers
September 28, 2017
3.5 stars - what an intense, dark, thought-provoking book. This will stay on my mind for a long time. I feel a mixture of emotions after finishing this. The telling of the story and writing was excellent. The story itself was very intriguing, but very sad.

My heart broke for the children in the Lee family. What started out as a 'forbidden' love story between Marilyn and James, ended with a death due to unrealistic expectations pushed too far on a child. I was frustrated with James and Marilyn throughout the story for A) pushing their separate (and very opposite) ideals on their daughter, Lydia and B) for basically ignoring their other two children, Nath and Hannah. Lydia had no chance of ever living up to either of her parents hopes and dreams for her, let alone both of them. Marilyn and James feel their hopes and encouragement are what is "best" for Lydia, meanwhile, these pressures create endless confusion, stress and suffocation for her.

While the story itself was very frustrating and sad, the writing was really good and kept me fully engaged from the first to last page.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Natalie.
570 reviews3,197 followers
October 12, 2022
UPDATE 2022:
Everything I Never Told You is a love letter to older siblings making your life easier by just existing near you. It meant even more to me on this reread.


Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

I'm pleased with my decision to put a few weeks of distance between me starting this book and having finished Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere. The latter left such a lasting and unwavering impression on me, as I mentioned in my raving review, that I was unsure whether I'd get to experience such emotions again in the near future. Thankfully, though, after two weeks of longing, I was more than ready to dive back into the author's wonderful world of stories within stories. And upon having completed the second chapter of Everything I Never Told You, where we get a better sense of the ongoing character dynamics, I knew I was in for a treat.

My personal highlights from the book include:

✓ The smaller the details, the more swept up I am in the story.

“But Nath’s seen Lydia at school, how in the cafeteria she sits silent while the others chatter; how, when they’ve finished copying her homework, she quietly slides her notebook back into her bookbag. After school, she walks to the bus alone and settles into the seat beside him in silence. Once, he had stayed on the phone line after Lydia picked up and heard not gossip, but his sister’s voice duly rattling off assignments—read Act I of Othello, do the odd-numbered problems in Section 5—then quiet after the hang-up click. The next day, while Lydia was curled on the window seat, phone pressed to her ear, he’d picked up the extension in the kitchen and heard only the low drone of the dial tone. Lydia has never really had friends, but their parents have never known. If their father says, “Lydia, how’s Pam doing?” Lydia says, “Oh, she’s great, she just made the pep squad,” and Nath doesn’t contradict her. He’s amazed at the stillness in her face, the way she can lie without even a raised eyebrow to give her away.”

*Sings like Jean-Ralphio* SPECIFIC. 

✓ The familiar atmosphere and making every family member more well-rounded by going back to their adolescence is something I always enjoy from the author.

“He spent twelve years at Lloyd and never felt at home. At Lloyd, everyone seemed to be descended from a Pilgrim or a senator or a Rockefeller, but when they did family tree projects in class, he pretended to forget the assignment rather than draw his own complicated diagram. Don’t ask any questions, he prayed silently as the teacher marked a small red zero beside his name. He set himself a curriculum of studying American culture—listening to the radio, reading comics, saving his pocket money for double features, learning the rules of the new board games—in case anyone ever said, Hey, didya hear Red Skelton yesterday? or Wanna play Monopoly? though no one ever did.”

The above passage really nails down his feeling out of place in a predominately white school.

“And James? What had he thought of her? He would never tell her this, would never admit it to himself: he had not noticed her at all, that first lecture. He had looked right at her, over and over, as he held forth on Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and John Wayne, but when she came to his office he had not even recognized her. Hers had been just one of the pale, pretty faces, indistinguishable from the next, and though he would never fully realize it, this was the first reason he came to love her: because she had blended in so perfectly, because she had seemed so completely and utterly at home.”

He got together with Marilyn to blend in, while she chose him to stand out, like the author pointed out before: “Because more than anything, her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father had wanted to blend in.” And now bringing home the point by showing and not just telling… The Shadow of the Wind is shook.

While reading Everything I Never Told You I had only one repeating thought that cemented the fact that Celeste Ng's knows how create stories within stories. There is such a somber mood that is perfectly captured throughout the book. The story slowly develops but is never boring. Like trying to piece together the missing pieces of a puzzle.

Inevitably, if I compare this read with Little Fires Everywhere, I'd say it was a bit subsided in its complexity because it didn't feature as many perspectives. Our main focus throughout the book is the Lee family and the aftermath of their stricken tragedy. So I was missing that sprawling look at different characters and point of views that we had in LFE. Where that one was so loud and tumultuous in my head with trying to pierce together ever thread of detail, this one offered something more quiet and introspective.

But that's not to say that Everything I Never Told You wasn't a sharp, refreshing look at family-driven dramas. Celeste Ng excels once again at make everything fall into place, from the tiniest detail to the bigger plot twists. And not twists, really, because her books all start with the mystery uncovered in the first sentence: "Lydia is dead." "...Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down." We instead follow the unfolding of their lives that brought the end results, which grew tremendously important to me.

“How had this all gone so wrong?”

The author also highlights the daring notion for these parents that their child might desire “something she wanted, not something they wanted for her.” Too many times did it feel like they weren't seeing their daughter, “the reluctant center of their universe,” rather just a younger version of themselves; trying to fix all their past mistakes by having her avoid making her own set of choices. I was stunned watching this very pivotal moment unfold.

“The door creaks open, and Marilyn slowly raises her head, as if Lydia might somehow, impossibly, appear. For a second the impossible happens: a small blurred ghost of little-girl Lydia, dark-haired, big-eyed. Hesitating in the doorway, clinging to the jamb. Please, Marilyn thinks. In this word is all she cannot phrase, even to herself. Please come back, please let me start over, please stay. Please.”

The desperate "please" haunted me for hours.

All this and more shines so brightly with Ng's rigorous writing style. And I personally cannot wait for all her future works.


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Profile Image for Adina .
892 reviews3,554 followers
March 8, 2022
3.5* rounded up
Speed date with a book 2022 edition
Book 5/32

I did not expect to finish this novel, let alone give it 4*. I’ve postponed starting it for more than 6 years even though it was waiting on my Kindle for me to pick it up. I though it will be full of clichés and that I will feel manipulated. It had both problems but somehow I did not mind.

Everything I Never Told You is the story of a dysfunctional mixed Chinese-Caucasian family living the 1970s in Ohio. The eldest daughter disappears one day which topples the family’s fragile balance built over secrets, frustrations, racial prejudice and guilt. It is not an overly original plot but the writing was beautiful, the plot was well constructed and the characters had depth.
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews937 followers
August 23, 2014
Gorgeous, tenderly rendered story about a family tragedy with deep roots.

The book’s opening is austere: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.” From the bare bones of that terrible fact, the story blooms, tendril after tendril, the past entwining the present and reaching into the future.

James Lee is an American-born Chinese professor of history, teaching at Middlewood College in Ohio. He is married to blonde, blue-eyed Marilyn, who he met when he was a teaching assistant at Harvard and she was a physics major at Radcliffe with dreams of medical school. Marilyn became pregnant and dropped out of school to raise a family with James – Nath, Lydia and Hannah. Lydia is the golden child – carrying the heavy burden of her parents’ failed dreams, past humiliations, and lofty expectations. What happens to Lydia in the end is not what you may expect, and it has its origins in her parents’ relationship with their parents and in all the ways we misunderstand each other, the secrets we keep, and all of the things we never tell each other.

I am in awe of the craftsmanship of this author in her debut novel. Ms. Ng pulls together the threads of this story masterfully and creates characters that are poignant, memorable and real. The writing is sublime. One of my favorite characters is the quietly observant and neglected youngest child, Hannah:

“And what about Hannah? They set up her nursery in the bedroom is the attic, where things that were not wanted were kept, and even when she got older, now and then each of them would forget, fleetingly, that she existed – as when Marilyn, setting four plates for dinner one night, did not realize her omission until Hannah reached the table. Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.”

A first rate novel, especially for a debut. Highly recommend.

On a side note, I found it interesting that Ng was an MFA student at University of Michigan with Jessmyn Ward, author of “Men We Reaped,” another 5-star read for me from this year. It seems like my favorite writers lately are coming from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Michigan MFA program. Kudos to them!
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :) .
1,025 reviews2,978 followers
January 31, 2019
I listened to this book on audio and this is my first 5 star book of the year although it was written in 2014. I have since read Little Fires Everywhere by this author which I loved. I usually write short reviews on audiobooks but this book deserves more.

It’s been a long time since I have had such a visceral reaction to a book. After I finished I had a terrible urge to call each of my four daughters and ask them if I ever made them feel unappreciated, unloved or pushed to hard to do something. For this is what this story is truly about, parents who are trying to live through their child’s life, the things that they themselves wanted and failed to achieve.

We start out during a breakfast moment when the family of James Lee, Marilyn, Nath and Hanna notice that their sister Lydia has not come down for breakfast. After much searching, phone calling, combing the area, the police finally find her body at the bottom of a very nearby lake. Her parents are shocked, they were totally clueless as to their daughters unhappiness, partly because she chose to put on a cloak of normality and happiness for their favor. We then shift to the story being told by each of the family members.

James Lee is an American born Chinese American who in this 1970’s time period had felt discrimination all of his life. He had received a scholarship to Harvard and his was a lonely time at school, where he was never accepted by this mostly white, economically privileged student body.

As a professor of English history he meets Marilyn whom he chooses as his teaching assistant, falls in love with and marries. He is not a bad man, he is not a cruel man, but his "pushing" will add to his chlidren's feeling of not being good enough. He tries to help his children, in his own way, to rise above the prejudice that they are sure to endure. He feels that the secret to this is to is to excel in academics and “try to fit in”, “make friends” and get involved in other school activities, only the first of which he ever achieved.

Marilyn is a Radcliff student who is determined not to end up like her mother, a homemaker, unhappy and racist woman. Marilyn views James as someone exotic and so unlike the other boys that have pursued her. She gets involved with James and soon they are romantically entwined and believe that they are in love. They marry, against her mother’s wishes, and begin their life in a small town in rural Ohio where James will teach at the college. This is probably the biggest mistake that they make, as their children will never fit into this small, all white town where prejudice is high. Marilyn gets pregnant with Nath and soon accepts her role as homemaker, particularly when another child, Lydia comes along. At one point in the story Marilyn decides to leave her family and go back to school, that is until she discovers that she is pregnant with their third, unplanned and pretty much unwanted third child. Later she pins all of her hopes on Lydia living the life that she didn’t get to have, she wants her daughter to be a doctor.

Lydia is the golden child, beautiful though exotic looking, very bright and in the beginning very social. As Lydia gets to high school she knows that she will never be accepted by this all white student body even though attempts are make to plan trips to the movies, etc. She is constantly under pressure, particularly from her mother, to excel academically and by her father to make friends, try to fit in, etc. We learn just how desperate she is to first please them and then escape from them. Her only help is her brother Nath whom she tells all of her problems and hurts. Then Nath is accepted to Harvard and she knows he will soon go away, the thought of being in the home without him as a buffer is more than she can bear.

Hannah is such a quiet child, given slight attention by her parents. She accepts any scraps of affection that she gets from her siblings, mother and father. But she sees and hears more than they know.

I was left in the end wondering how this family will now survive without Lydia. I continually wondered why they didn’t move to a more integrated community to spare their children the prejudice that they face every day. This is the one thing that bothered me the most, knowing how difficult it had to be from a mixed race family in the 70’s, why did they choose a small, all white community?

This book was masterfully written and made me feel so much sadness for the children, even for the parents as they seemed to be so sure that they were doing the right thing for their daughter.

This is a book not to be missed. Since I listened to the audiobook which was told in the four voices, I’m not sure how the book reads but the audio version is excellent and I highly recommend this book to everyone!
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