Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng review

Hi everyone! Last year I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and really enjoyed it. So naturally, when I saw her debut Everything I Never Told You on Amazon during a wee book shopping spree I had to have it. Set in the 1970s, the novel opens with, ‘Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet’. We then follow the Lee family as they struggle to come to terms with the death of a loved one, and watch as they slowly unravel. We also move back in time to see how Marilyn and James met, how Lydia, Nath, and Hannah grew up, and ultimately what caused the death of Lydia.

Very much like in Little Fires Everywhere, Ng really excels here at capturing small town, middle class America. She is able to put into words how they function and the unspoken codes of conduct of these places. What gives Everything I Never Told You the edge over the other novel is Ng also looks at race. James is a Chinese-American man and Marilyn is a white woman, so their children are mixed race. Race causes tension, not just within this community, but also within the family. It is arguably the main source of conflict, but because the characters don’t have the ability to talk about their feelings it sort of lingers just beneath the surface. This is really effective as it allows the theme of race to permeate the novel; much like James can’t escape discrimination, the novel can’t escape its clutches either.

The characters as well are really well-written. Ng lets you into the different worlds of these characters, meaning you can understand and sympathise with them whilst they do horrible things. This is particularly true of Marilyn and James, who feel frustrated by their own pasts and thus try to control their kids’ childhoods. It is a incredibly tragic, frustrating read yet still very gripping. Towards the end, I was more interested in the ‘after’ chapters rather than the ‘before’. The circumstances leading up to Lydia’s death felt well-established so whilst it was interesting to explore them in depth, by the end I felt I already knew what had happened. The character of Hannah, the youngest Lee child, is a mixed bag for me too. Again at the ending – and no spoilers – I didn’t like how her character was being perceived by the others. Perhaps this was intentional on Ng’s part, but I got quite a sinister sense concerning Hannah’s fate.

Everything I Never Told You is a gripping family drama, exploring themes of race and discrimination. Fans of Little Fires Everywhere will certainly love this – out of the two this is my favourite. Ng has been highly praised many, many times for her great writing and characterisation, both of which are on full display here. Her ability to capture a community or a family is incredible, and I would really recommend checking her novels out if you haven’t already.

Everything I Never Told You is published by Abacus and you can find more information here.

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