Everything I Never Told You Review

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There are some novels that take ages to find their way to the plot – pages of plodding descriptions and introductions of characters, so much so that you begin to wonder when the actual story will begin. Everything I Never Told You is not one of those books. From the very first sentences — “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.it is an utterly absorbing read that keeps you turning pages while still managing to be thought-provoking.

Simply put, Everything I Never Told You is the story of one family — Marilyn and James, husband and wife, and their three children, Nath, Lydia, and Hannah — and how the decades of decisions the five of them make lead to Lydia’s body being found at the bottom of a lake on a May morning. Both Marilyn and James want Lydia, their favorite daughter, to have what they never did: for Marilyn, this involves pushing Lydia to become a doctor in spite of her gender, and for James, it is making sure Lydia is the most popular girl in the grade. Only Nath and Hannah, as they watch Lydia cry over her schoolwork and lie to her father about “friends” who she has not seen in years, see the effect their parents’ heavy expectations are having on Lydia. And by the time even Nath and Hannah fully understand Lydia’s true feelings, it is too late.

Everything I Never Told You is considered historical fiction, as it is set during the 1950s and 60s, but at no point does it sound like a history lesson. Instead, it incorporates historical culture by examining stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, and gender, and the capacity they have to destroy lives.

The story itself is moving and thought-provoking with three-dimensional characters and a plot that seamlessly incorporates storylines from multiple decades. As I was reading, I genuinely cared about the characters — Marilyn, James, Lydia, Nath, and Hannah — even when they made mistakes. In fact, I liked them more because they were flawed, and because they managed, in most cases, to allow their experiences to teach them how to move past these flaws.

The only major complaint I have is a plot point towards the end of the book. (Warning: spoilers ahead). The revelation that Lydia was attempting to swim in the water, meaning she was not trying to kill herself, seemed inconsistent with clues we had been given throughout the book and with the overall message of the harmful and often unintentional effects one’s actions can have on someone else. Ng had hinted at suicide and painted Lydia’s family and acquaintances as the ones responsible for hundreds of pages, and in the last chapter, we learn that Lydia, while she had almost reached that point, ended up drowning because of a careless decision. The decision itself – trying to swim in a deep lake when she had no experience and knew she could not swim – was out of character for Lydia’s normal careful self, and to me, seemed too unexpected. But this is not enough of a reason not to read the book – all the pages before it make the read more than worth it.

Ultimately, there are so many reasons to read Everything I Never Told You, but mostly: read it for the thoughtfully written moral dilemmas, the overlapping, engrossing storylines, and most of all, for the wonderfully flawed characters.

The hardcover of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is available from Barnes & Noble for $17.61

by Maya Bharara