Rebecca's Reviews > Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
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really liked it
bookshelves: read-via-netgalley, mysteries

“What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.” A moving, accomplished first novel about an interracial family’s grief and the attempt to piece together a favored child’s life posthumously. No need for me to recount the gentle mystery plot; I’ll just add that this is a truly arresting cautionary tale about the dangers of living vicariously through your children. I love the way Marilyn and Lydia’s stories mirror yet contradict each other – how neither could ever please her mother, but for opposite reasons. I also admired the disparity Ng sets up between James (Chinese), who longs to fit into 1970s suburbia, and Marilyn (blonde hair and blue eyes), who wishes she could stand out from a sea of perfect housewives for her intellectual achievements.

At times I thought Ng was a bit heavy-handed in her symbolism (e.g. James’s academic specialty is cowboys – nothing more quintessentially American than that), but in other places it’s perfect. I can’t forget the image of a shelf full of blank diaries in Lydia’s room, the pocket full of little family trinkets Marilyn took away to college, or that wretched Betty Crocker cookbook. Something else I noted (perhaps a strange thing to mention) is that there are very strong transitions between the chapters; this contributes to thematic unity and pace – you’re tempted to just keep going at the start of another chapter, instead of putting the book down for a while.

My favorite single moment: what Hannah sees at the lakeside between Jack and Nath. It’s a key example of the title’s contrast between what’s left unsaid and a tiny gesture that speaks volumes. I found myself ever so slightly disappointed with the surviving family members’ hackneyed responses to grief – having an affair, going on a drunken bender, hitting the most likely subject of blame, obsessing over the dead person’s relics – but I suppose death turns us all into clichés. This is a great debut, so beautifully written; I’ll look forward to what Ng comes out with next.

Further reading

The plot of this one reminded me a fair bit of The Virgins by Pamela Erens. For more on the theme of (not) fitting in as a Chinese immigrant, I recommend The Celestials by Karen Shepard and For Today I Am a Boy by Kim Fu.
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Reading Progress

April 16, 2014 – Shelved
April 16, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
October 16, 2014 – Started Reading
October 23, 2014 – Finished Reading
October 24, 2014 – Shelved as: read-via-netgalley
October 24, 2014 – Shelved as: mysteries

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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Taryn Thanks for the further reading suggestions--I loved this book and am eager to check out the other titles you mention.

Cheri Terrific review, Rebecca!

Rebecca Cheri wrote: "Terrific review, Rebecca!"

Thanks! Funnily enough, I just reviewed her second book this morning for the UK blog tour -- I'll be posting that review later today. It's that tiny bit better than her debut, for me, and on my Best of 2017 list.

Kathleen Great review, Rebecca.

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