Book Review: Everything I Never Told You

This week I finished an audiobook I started back in June. I go back and forth on them, going through phases where I listen to chunks for weeks (this usually lines up with my podcast binge listening.) I also really wanted to finish this book so that I could get started on A Darker Shade of Magic, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like this book! This audiobook came free from the Ford Audiobook Club on Goodreads. I recommend joining this group if you like audiobooks, but be forewarned: they don’t necessarily update frequently. The group didn’t have any books from December 2014 to July 2015, and then released two in less than a month! Anyways, Everything I Never Told You was their release back in November 2014. I’m glad I finally listened to it. It’s an easy listen if you want (or an easy read, I’m guessing).

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Penguin Press: 2014
Rated: moose-mdmoose-mdmoose-mdmoose-md 4/5 Moose

Overview:

The book opens in the mid-1970s on a biracial family, the Lees, in small town Ohio. Their middle child, the parent’s favorite, Lydia is dead, but the family doesn’t quite know it yet. Marilyn and James Lee, Lydia’s parents were set on Lydia accomplishing the dreams they failed to accomplish themselves; James desires for his children to have friends, be popular, and to be seen as normal American children. Marilyn wants her daughter to become a doctor. Unfortunately, their blue eyed, black haired child is found in the lake. This leads the family into despair, teetering on the edge of falling completely apart.

The novel is told through a combination of flashbacks prior to Lydia’s death and how the Lee’s continue to survive after. The flashbacks go all the way back, showing how Marilyn and James met, how they dealt with those who opposed their interracial marriage. Nathan (Lydia’s older brother) and Lydia’s relationship evolve while James and Nathan’s relationship crumble. Hannah, the forgotten youngest child quietly observes everyone and everything.

Thoughts on the book:

(Because there really wasn’t anything I really didn’t

Okay. I cannot say that I truly understand what it feels like to be judged or anything. While I have scars on my body, it’s not something I grew up with. This book just made me feel even further blessed that my differences or ailments are all internally.

The Lee family made me feel uncomfortable with how uncomfortable they are in their own lives. This is the main reason why I loved this book. This book isn’t about who killed Lydia or why; it’s about a family coping a day at a time with their lives.

James: James might be my least favorite character. I really didn’t like either parent, but I guess I understood Marilyn more. James is a Chinese American professor, teaching American Culture. Shortly after his first class, nearly all the students dropped the class. Except a blonde haired, blue eyed student: Marilyn.
As Marilyn and James start their family, he tries to get his son to be everything he missed in life — popularity, friends, normalcy. He ignores Lydia, leaving her at babysitters for father/son time. Unfortunately, Nathan (Nath) reminds his father too much of himself. He’s quiet, shy, and a bit of a bookworm. And, unfortunately, he’s picked on by kids for being Chinese. Instead of trying to help his son cope with this, he shuns him and ignores him and belittles him.
This inability to explain and cope with his emotions eventually extends to his wife and youngest daughter, Hannah. But never to Lydia. He starts to feel that he’s got a second chance with Lydia. So when she dies, James becomes even more selfish and retracts further in his shell.

Marilyn: Oh Marilyn. I get Marilyn more, maybe just because I am female. When Marilyn meets James, she is in university to become a doctor. This was back in the late 1950s and/or early 1960s, so, ya know, not a time for women to do anything but be a wife, which is all her mom wants her to be. Marilyn’s mother continued to be a house wife even after her husband was gone, putting dinner on the table every night and make up on every morning. She taught Home Ec at Marilyn’s high school, a class that Marilyn tries to exchange for shop class. Marilyn feels an immediate connection with James through prejudice.
Women couldn’t have it all back then. Hell, it’s still debatable if women can have it all now. So after a chain of events that I’ll not discuss (as it’s a good chunk of the book), Marilyn deludes herself into thinking that Lydia can be and do what she couldn’t do: become a doctor. This becomes her mission in life, to get her daughter to do what she couldn’t do.

Nathan “Nath”: At the time of his sister’s death, Nath is getting ready to graduate and go off to college as far away from his family as he can (…while getting a good education, of course). He becomes consumed with trying to prove that the neighbor boy Jack is responsible for Lydia’s death, either by accident or by murder. He is bullied by his father and hides his love of space and astronauts. He knows his sister Lydia is the favorite and hates her for it in the beginning. But after a pivotal moment in their childhood where Nath realizes Lydia is drowning under the same pressure but in a different form, the two form a bond and alliance, assuring that neither will be left behind.

Hannah: Oh Hannah. I just wanted to hug Hannah the entire book. Her conception was an accident (one that doesn’t entirely make sense to me timeline wise — Marilyn’s pregnancy DOES NOT ADD UP SOMEONE EXPLAIN IT TO ME) and thus she is treated as the mistake everyone wants to forget. She literally spends her life growing up trying to be invisible. But she sees everything. She can tell the difference in her sister’s smiles, and figures out Jack’s secret long before anyone else does. There really is almost nothing about Hannah, poor, poor Hannah. She’s the one character that could come out of everything okay, or be completely damaged more than the rest of the family.

Finally, Lydia. My high school years weren’t bad. I had pressure, sure, some partially self inflicted while some from my parents. And to be fair, I always understood what was the meaning behind my external pressures. While the reader understands where James and Marilyn come from (maybe not understands, but at least can see the progression), I’m not entirely sure Lydia understands it. Eventually you find out what happens to Lydia, but it doesn’t matter necessarily. The author could have told you from the beginning, but all it would have done is color your perspective of the story.

Concluding Thoughts:

This book was a nice change of pace from all the YA I’ve been reading, which is nice. It left me sad and exhausted all at once, as well as wanting to call my mom and thanking her for not being Marilyn. I don’t think  I’ll reread the book, but it’s definitely one I recommend. If you liked Lovely Bones, you’ll probably enjoy this book. I personally never finished Lovely Bones, but what I remember of it is along the same vein of this novel.

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