Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng

Penguin Group (USA), 2014

Description (from the author’s website)

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

So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

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. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My Review (4 Stars: Liked it a lot!)

I read this book over the course of three days and thought about the Lee family in between.  It is 1977, when girls slathered themselves in baby oil and sunbathed.  (I hope they don’t do that now.)  I can relate to this time period.

This story is about a mixed family, Chinese-American and American.  The parents Marylyn and James and their two older children Lydia and Nathan, because of their mixed origins, do not fit in with American culture at the time, despite their efforts.  Their third, youngest, child, Hannah, struggles to fit in with her, seemingly self-absorbed, family.  Lydia is found dead in the nearby lake.  Reading Everything I Never Told You gives the back story leading up to this tragic death.

When I finished this novel, I think my jaw dropped open.  I was very impressed with author, Celeste Ng‘s, style.  She shows this family’s dynamic very well.  This is a sensitive and touching debut novel.  We are clearly shown the disconnect between parents and their children and with each other.  While this is fiction, it seems like a very realistic story.  In the end, it is a heartbreaker.



  1. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about this novel and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. Soon? Maybe! You know how it goes: So many books, so very little time. I do love a good book that shows complicated family relationships. Great review!


  2. I loved it, too, Pat, and I could relate to the times as well. It is hard to believe how easily family members lose their connection to one another unless one has experienced or seen it, and the author shows this very well in the book.

    I felt very sorry for Hannah, but I was impressed with her observational skills!

    Great review.


  3. I liked this one a lot too – it made my Best Debuts of 2014 list! And – I’m with you on the theme of parents having no clue what their kids are up to…that’s what really stuck with me from this one. That and parents trying to live vicariously through their children.


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