Book Review: Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

It’s not often that I finish a book feeling completely stunned by it. I managed to weep through the last 20 pages and I haven’t read anything that’s made me feel all the emotions, all at once, for a long, long time.

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at Trinity College at Oxford University

Everything I Never Told You is an incredible portrait of a family in small town America around the 1970s – with a white mother, Marilyn, and a chinese father, James. They have three children, Nat, Lydia, and Hannah. We meet them on the morning that Lydia goes missing and turns up drowned, in the lake near their house, shortly after. At the time Lydia is 16, Nat is slightly older and is just about to go to Harvard, Hannah is around 10 or 11.

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

– Celeste Ng, opening lines of Everything I Never Told You

We follow them through the aftermath of this tragedy, and revisit their past where we find out about how Marilyn and James met, how a crisis after they had 2 of their children occurred and how the fall out from that event follows them all the way to Lydia’s death.

At so many points in this book I was almost screaming at the characters to just talk to each other, just hug them, tell them what you’re bloody thinking. I could hardly bear it! When I say almost screaming, obviously I mean in my head. The title says it all. Everything I Never Told You.

There is racism that they all have to deal with. Additionally, Marilyn is an aspiring doctor when we meet her. She has fought against her mother and her 1950s housewife ways. She’s fought to be able to take sciences and then she gives it all up when she meets a man and gets pregnant. Marilyn finds this very hard to deal with throughout her life because she essentially does what her mother wants her to, and her dreams are shelved. She decides she can live vicariously through Lydia and heaps so much pressure onto her to fulfil her mother’s dreams herself. It was understandable, in a way, but she just took it all too far. She forgot that her daughter is a different person with her own ideas and ambitions.

As a mother of a daughter, a lot of this hit very close to home. Of course I encourage my daughter to do what she likes and I’m determined that she will know she has opportunities. I buy my kids sciencey things and have books about great, powerful women around the house.  It was also really odd that the mother has the same name as me. This is so rare, I think it’s the first time it’s happened to me! Freaked me out a bit!

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my small girl looking at Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. 

The family set up and their relationships in Everything is such a big mess. It’s gut-wrenchingly heart-breaking at so many moments. And beautifully written. I absolutely loved this book. Poor Hannah is ignored at every turn by both her parents, and Nat suffers scorn from his Father because he reminds him so much of himself. James is obsessed with his children making friends and fitting in where he failed to. He has such good intentions but he carries it out so clumsily and painfully.

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On the train to London. It’s more well travelled than most of my books 🙂

I had to wait to read the last part of this book. I just knew it was going to break me. I’d already welled up at so many other parts of it. In public, I should add! I waited to finish it when I would be at home, and undisturbed, and I glad I did because I just wept for the last 20 pages. Celeste Ng you have written the most amazing, emotional story. I loved it and I think it has also showed me how I must be careful to NOT be with my family as they grow up. I can’t recommend you read it enough.

Final thought, the cover claims it’s is like The Lovely Bones. It isn’t. I disliked that book and this one I utterly loved.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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