Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a novel that unfolds slowly, like a fruit ripening on the branch. At times the taste is bitter, like the pain of the Lee family as they search for answers after the death of their daughter, Lydia. Ng takes you back slowly and patiently through both the mundane and poignant moments that brought the Lee’s to this point. The reflection and the understanding mirrors what each of the Lees – James, the father, Marilyn, the mother, Nath, the oldest son, Hannah, the surprise youngest daughter – learn in hindsight — that they never knew Lydia at all. The title could lead one to assume that the “I” in the title is about Lydia, but it is broader than that and that makes the story all the more compelling.
Ng explores so many themes gently and humanely. The pain of being different; whether due to being mixed race or being a woman in male dominated academia in the late 60s. The missteps parents make trying to push their children to correct the mistakes they made, to be popular, to be a doctor. The pain and confusion of not knowing what you want or who you are. The pain and confusion of knowing who you are and what you want, but not being able to get it. Ng does an amazing job of making you care for each of the characters, even when they do some unlikeable things.
The loss of Lydia is the center of this story, but what is lost and found for the Lee family is what makes this novel’s ending hopeful rather than happy.