Celeste Ng’s debut novel ‘Everything I Never Told You’ took her six years to write. She worked on four complete drafts. No wonder it’s as good as it is. Every sentence feels deliberate—conveying so much while saying so little, and the writing is gorgeous. It’s a book you will talk and be nostalgic about long after you have read it. It’s that book you will be shoving under people’s noses saying, “You’re missing out.”
Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, Everything I Never Told You is a story about a Chinese American family living in Ohio in the 1970s, a time when being an immigrant in America came with a whole lot more issues than it does today.
Lydia Lee, a model daughter and ace student, goes missing. Her body is found at the bottom of a lake. The last person to have seen her alive is the local ‘bad boy’, Jack Wolff. Lydia’s elder brother, Nathan, is convinced Jack had something to do with her death. The rest of the family struggles to understand how this could have happened to their sweet and responsible Lydia—the last person you’d expect to get into trouble.
During the police investigation, the family is shocked to find that Lydia wasn’t who she appeared to be. Questions like ‘How was she doing at school?’, ‘Who were her friends?’, ‘Was she depressed?’, ‘Did she ever talk about wanting to hurt herself?’ lead to revelations that complicate the case. The people Lydia claimed to be friends with, she actually hadn’t spoken to for months. She never talked about troubles in school but, in fact, she was almost failing some courses. The family thought she kept journals. Her mother, Marilyn, gave her a new one every year. But she never wrote in any of them.
It all begs the questions, ‘Who was Lydia?’ and ‘What was she hiding?’. Clearly, the girl her family knew never existed. So, what does that have to do with what happened to her?
As the family grapples with each shocking find, you see how death affects different people, how each person’s way of handling it is unique, and how it tears a family apart and then brings it together. It’s a crime drama where the drama isn’t related to the actual crime but its repercussions on the victim’s family. The book, I feel, brings together the best parts of a thriller and a family drama. These two elements together work brilliantly to keep the story taut and believable at the same time.
Everything I Never Told You feels like a labor of love. Reading it leads to a lot of introspection and a renewed sense of how we must value our loved ones for who they are and not who we want them to be. Ng (pronounced ‘-ing’) has given us a beautiful story of love, loss, and a sense of belonging that will resonate across generations.