2016 Book Reading Pact #2
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .
So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.
Once in a while you come across a book where you pick it with some apprehensions, begin with zero expectations and then like Life sometimes, the book unexpectedly surprises you from the first page itself. Once in a while you come across a story which makes you skip lunch, fix a quick ready to eat dinner, avoid phone calls, forget the internet and stay up late in the night all because you just cannot carry on without having your questions answered. Everything I Never Told You is one such read.
Set in 1970’s Ohio, this is the story of the Lee family. Lydia, the second child of James and Marilyn Lee, who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair goes missing from home. Soon her half decayed body is found in the nearby lake by the police. Questions are raised… did someone kill Lydia or was it a case of suicide. Nathan, Lydia’s elder brother believes, the local bad boy Jack knows what happened to his sister, but Jack refuses to talk.
While the police begin their investigations, a family story unfolds. All James Lee ever wanted in his life was to fit in, to not be subject to racist judgments and to be rightfully called an American. The only dream Marilyn ever had was to become a Doctor. When James and Marilyn get married, disapproval among society is apparent. After all interracial marriages are destined to be doomed?
Nathan, the eldest, cannot wait to go to Harvard. He is tired of all the love and attention showered on Lydia. He loves his sister dearly, but he has his own dreams too. Harvard is his only way out. Hannah the youngest is lost among the adults in the family. Deprived of love and attention she feels invisible. Lydia, the most loved child of the Lee family is groomed to become a doctor. All hopes are pinned on her. Why would fate take her away from James and Marilyn? Why would anyone kill her? And The Police asking disturbing questions about whether Lydia was a happy child or good at studies… what were they insinuating?
This is Celeste Ng’s debut novel. When I came across this book, the comment on the back of the book by NYT book review made me buy it. It said “If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now.” And I know now how apt it is. Ng wittingly allows the readers to enter the lives of the Lee family, their history, challenges, hopes, laughter, their success and failures.
My Take on it – Tagged as a literary thriller, Everything I Never Told You is all that and much more. It’s an experience which makes the child, the brother, the sister, the parent or the friend within you resonate with the Lee family. The story allows you to grieve for the other’s loss, you want to be left alone, to be lost in another time, be part of their lives, to revel in their happiness, to wipe away their tears and unconsciously you let them be part of you for a long long time. Every character and by this I mean literally each and every character in this book is a standout. There are no extras, fillers or weak characters. Ng’s writing is impeccable and eloquent. This is one book you don’t want to miss.
A small peek into Lydia’s world : “Above them, the sky rolled out a deep black, like a pool of ink, littered with stars. They were nothing like the stars in her science books, blurred and globby as drops of spit. They were razor sharp, each one precise as a period, punctuating the sky with light. Tipping her head back, she could not see the houses of the lake or the lamps on the street. All she could see was the sky, so huge and dark it could crush her. It was like being on another planet. No—like floating in space, alone. (page 257)
Have a super day and Happy Reading!