Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng, I assume, borrowed heavily from her life for this book. The relationships between siblings, Lydia’s relationship with her parents, and the life of an over-worked, high achieving, high schooler are among the best parts of this book. Ng’s writing is approachable, but not so easy as to lull your attention away. From the first sentence, the ambitions of this literary thriller are clear. What unfolds, though, over the course of the book is less thriller (I was always interested in finding out what happened to Lydia, but that wasn’t my sole interest) and more family drama.

The family, then, is also worth addressing. This book contains some great descriptions of mixed families, women’s fight for a broader identity than home maker, Asian American identity formation and its strained but undivorceable relationship with academia in America, as well as the dynamics of being a non-traditional, non-white family in small town America. All of these elements raised my appreciation for the book. But with almost every single one of them, there were times where Ng insisted on hitting me over the head with conflicts, or tensions, that were abundantly clear through her writing about characters or plot descriptions. I didn’t need to know, in explicit terms, what James meant when he gave a necklace to Lydia, or what Marilyn wanted from Lydia when she devoted so much time and energy into her academic success.

Overall, there is a lot to like about this book. It makes for a quick read, if nothing else. I look forward to more work by Ng, that explores similar themes, but perhaps (as others have said) through more showing and less telling.