Book Review: Everything I Never Told You


Since I dialed back writing this past summer, I dialed up reading.  I soaked in words. I bathed in stories. I swam in tales. As you might imagine, all of my books have water stains.

So. Much. Fun.

I've debated where to begin sharing, but I decided to start with my favorite summer read because, well, because I'm impatient that way.

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”

These are the first couple of sentences in Celeste Ng's novel Everything I Never Told You.

If that were the only sentence I gave you, chances are you would think this was a mystery or whodunit read. You would only be partly right. Given the subject matter, it's surprising how much I enjoyed this book, but dang is the writing good!

Beginning with the title of the book, the communication theme is easy to catch.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you--whether because you didn't get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

There are plot twists and insights galore, but most of them are revelations the readers learn which are invisible to the characters. We find out how the father flirts with abandoning his family.

“You could stop taking their phone calls, tear up their letters, pretend they'd never existed. Start over as a new person with a new life. Just a problem of geography, he thought, with the confidence of someone who had never yet tried to free himself of family.”

And how the mother drifts in and out of engaging in the grieving process.

“It would disappear forever from her memory of Lydia, the way memories of a lost loved one always smooth and simplify themselves, shedding complexities like scales.”

The story grapples with being misunderstood.

 “People decide what you're like before they even get to know you.”

And with what will be missed when someone you love dies. Ng is unblinking in her assessment of a family which has regrets and lives with unanswered questions.

“All of that will be gone by morning. Instead, they will dissect this last evening for years to come. What had they missed that they should have seen? What small gesture, forgotten, might have changed everything? They will pick it down to the bones, wondering how this had all gone so wrong, and they will never be sure.”

By the end of the novel, the reader knows more than the people in the story. While this might feel unsatisfying, I found it encouraging. I wish I could say more, but I'm afraid it would spoil your experience.