26 April 2016

Review #410: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Lies and secrets, Tessa, they are like a cancer in the soul. They eat away what is good and leave only destruction behind.”

----Cassandra Clare

Celeste Ng, the New York Times bestselling author, has penned an entrancing tale about a Chinese-American family set in the 70s America, Everything I Never Told You. This story opens with the eldest daughter's death but her parents and her siblings are not aware of it, and from there the story shifts from one family member's past life and secrets to another and on the background, the police are looking for the missing daughter.


“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.

Lydia Lee, the apple of her parents', Marilyn and James, eyes, who will fulfill all their dreams that they could not achieve. She will become a doctor and will not settle down for marriage at a younger age unlike her mother, Marilyn, who fell for the professor, James, a first generation Chinese immigrant in America, and married him, thus putting an end in becoming a doctor. As for James, Lydia will become a social butterfly. But when her body is found at the nearby lake, the whole family is left devastated with her loss. Lydia's elder brother, Nathan, with whom Lydia shared the strongest bond of trust in the family, is in doubt that the badass playboy, Jack, from their school, has something to do with her death. James treads on a dangerous path that will jeopardize his marriage to Marilyn. Whereas Marilyn needs absolution to her precious daughter's death as according to her Lydia is not capable of killing herself as the police suggests. Hannah, the youngest daughter of the family, knows a lot about what was going on with Lydia, how she was burdened under her parent's pressure to excel well in every subjects and to be the center of every event.

We have all heard about the term "peer pressure" and how it affects one. But there is another kind of pressure called "parent pressure" that is even more dangerous than the peer pressure, as it silently affects the mind of a child. Lydia is constantly pressurized especially by her own mother to become a doctor and for that she was asked to excel in all the science subjects, unfortunately she failed in Physics, no matter how hard she tried. And to keep her mother pleased, she used to constantly say yes to each and every one of her demands. Lydia tried to be good but she had no friends.

The author's writing style is excellent and thoroughly exquisite and is laced with all kinds of heart-felt and deep emotions right from the very beginning. The story is arresting from the very first page itself, as it will immediately pull the readers into the lives of these complex characters. The narrative is engaging as well as evocative enough to make the readers feel and comprehend with the story line. The author has trod the path to this story with vivid details, emotions and enough back story, thus making it simpler for the readers to move along with it. The pacing is quite fast, compared to the fact that this is a mystery laced with family drama.

The characters are the highlight of this story thus making ti enriching as well as fascinating to read. All the characters are very layered and are depicted under two dimensions. They are flawed, yet they held a beauty in their not so inspiring demeanor. There is no main character, each and every member of Lee family plays an equally important role. The marital bond between Marilyn and James becomes weakened due to their loss and how they try hard to hold on to each other in those difficult times is strikingly portrayed by the author. The characters of both Nathan and Hannah are very much well-developed and Nathan's determination to find out what happened with his sister and Hannah's knowledge about her sister's late-night escapades will make the readers fall for them and root for them till the very end.

The timeline of the 70s which is not so evident from the story line, yet at times the readers are introduced with the then society by vividly portraying it into the story. But the setting is captured strikingly by the author as the author mentions about the summers spent by the Lee family in the lake.

In a nutshell, this is a poignant family drama that is layered with suspense and some unpredictable twists that will keep the readers turning the pages of this book till the very end.

Verdict: A deeply touching family saga centered around a daughter's death.

Courtesy: I like it when I buy the right books with my money!

Author Info:
Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which 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, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.
Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.  Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.
Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Visit her here

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