Wow. Okay. I don’t even remotely know where to begin talking about my latest read, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. There are so, so many feels in this book and, since I just finished it last night, I haven’t had a ton of time to process. So… here we go!
This book was a bit of a stretch outside my usual bookish habits. In general, I don’t read a lot of books that involve murder or mysteries surrounding death, for whatever reason. However, I just kept hearing and hearing about how amazing this book was, so I put it on the list for the poll in my new book club (!!) and my coworkers picked the title. So I dusted off my copy, grabbed a pen and some Post-It flags, and got to work.
This book wasn’t what I expected at all. The first line makes it pretty clear that Lydia is actually really and truly dead. This robs the reader of much of the hope that a happy ending will come about in that form. Instead, Ng weaves a story that simultaneously reaches back to the things in both James (Lydia’s father) and Marilyn (Lydia’s mother)’s lives that led up TO Lydia and whatever happened to her and forward, dealing with the terrible aftermath of a death in the family and all the ways it plays out for each member.
This book felt so authentic and so sad for so much of the time. I’ve been blessed with a reasonably functional family unit and a lack of any major familial deaths, so I can’t speak for how grief plays out, but the characters and situations felt, for the most part, devastatingly real and plausible. I spent a lot of time shouting “JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER” because the main issue seems to be a lack of communication and understanding between the members of this family. Lack of communication led up to Lydia’s death (which occurs in circumstances I won’t reveal, because spoilers), and lack of communication creates challenges in the family’s efforts to cope with the unbelievable loss of their teenage daughter/sister. Everything I Never Told You made me feel the feels and also think about things I’ve never experienced; Ng evokes all of the challenges of racial differences in the 50s and 70s, issues which are still relevant today, for all the progress society has made sine that time. As a white person, it was really interesting to step into the shoes of a mixed race family and see the ways that race inevitably affects the way one is perceived in the world, etc. This book made me feel all the feels in all of the most beautiful and most devastating ways; I’ve no doubt said before that I often measure a book by the number of times it makes me cry. In this reading, I lost count.
That being said, there was one major thing that didn’t really gel with me. The youngest, overlooked daughter, Hannah, seems a smidge overwritten a great deal of the time. To me, her acceptance of being overlooked and the very degree of that lack of attention seemed hyperbolic; while I am sure families have children that they may forget to pay attention to, Hannah’s isolation is mentioned nearly every time she is. This makes her feel a bit like a one-note character, which was pretty frustrating for me. It’s a small complaint, but it did start to prickle on me by the end.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! It’s definitely emotionally heavy and deals with some tough issues, but this book was such a great read. I loved every minute of it, and can’t wait to discuss it with my work book club next week!