Everything I Never Told You is the first novel of American writer Celeste Ng, and was Amazon book of the year in 2014. It has been translated into 15 different languages and won another 4 awards and been shortlisted for at least another three. Ng has gone on to write a second bestselling novel Little Fires Everywhere.
The novel follows a mixed-race family in 1970’s America after they struggle to cope with the death of their beloved daughter and sister. In the efforts to discover how she died, it becomes apparent that their perception of their daughter’s life was incorrect, and secrets start to unravel. Ng retraces the history of each family member and then sews the pieces back together to form a conclusion where the family must accept and move on from their loss.
The strength of Ng’s weaving of the different backgrounds of her very different characters contributes to offering many perspectives of the same events. When mother Marilyn disappears, her own recollection of this event is vastly different to her husbands, in addition the young children have a contrasting memory. This allows the reader to draw their own conclusions and to assess the morals of each character and their resulting behaviours and responses to each situation.
Ng has maintained a grieving undertone throughout the novel, upon which the main theme of cultural differences, acceptance, racism rests. In addition, the plot of family dynamics is supported by the addition of homosexuality, feeling like you don’t measure up, fitting in, failed dreams. The strength lies in developing on the morally grey area of what are essentially good people hit by an unexpected tragedy. Ng bluntly starts the book by telling the readers that ‘Lydia is dead,” and then unravels this, providing a strong draw-in by the reader.
I found this novel relevant to my own work in the development of the characters and their relationships to each other. In particular I drew inspiration from Ng’s exquisite showing of each scene without excess telling. Everything I never Told You is also similar to my own work where the main character does not mean to die, but nonetheless sadly creates their own death.
“Lydia has never really had friends, but their parents have never known. If their father says, “Lydia, how’s Pam doing?” Lydia says, “Oh, she’s great, she just made the pep squad,” and Nath doesn’t contradict her. He’s amazed at the stillness in her face, the way she can lie without even a raised eyebrow to give her away.”.”
Everything I Never Told You is described as a literary thriller, I enjoyed it as a contemporary fictional study of family dynamics, and particularly enjoyed the dynamic where everyone’s pasts never go away and in a way come together to create a family.
Ng, Celeste. (2014). Everything I Never Told You. Penguin, New York. (292).