Though Lydia does not understand the complex motivations for her parents behavior, the novel explores the residual, generational effects of family trauma. In various interviews, Ng has explained that her own experiences as an Asian-American woman profoundly influenced the narrative. Ng's decision to have the story take place during the s provides a historical context for the normalization of interracial marriage in the United States.
Although interracial marriages were indeed prevalent in American society, the Supreme Court only reversed interracial marriage bans in As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Lydia's death is the breaking point for the Lee family. Along with James and Marilyn, Lydia's siblings, Nath and Hannah, must confront their insecurities and face the challenges that accompany their family's biracial identity.
In a interview with National Public Radio, Ng explained her motivations for writing about the Lee family. She has her mother's blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair and makes them proud with how effortlessly it seems that she can fulfill the dreams that they were unable to pursue themselves. For Marilyn, the dream is to see her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker. As a young woman in the late s attending college and working toward a medical degree in a predominantly male program, Marilyn felt like an outsider. Marilyn's mother encouraged her to leave school and find a husband, but when Marilyn informed her of her choice to marry a Chinese-American man, her mother disapproved and their relationship deteriorated.
Marilyn was later forced to give up her dream of becoming a doctor when she became a mother. For James, the dream is to see Lydia popular at school with a busy social life, something James never experienced himself as a Chinese-American. When Lydia's body is found in the lake, the delicate balance keeping the Lee family together is destroyed.
James, consumed with guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find the responsible party no matter the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan—who was close with his sister but is headed off to college with his own dreams of becoming an astronaut—is certain that the neighborhood bad boy, Jack, is somehow involved. But it's the youngest of the Lee family, Hannah, who observes more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.
Rights have been sold to translate the novel into 20 languages. Ng took six years to write it and produced four different drafts of the novel before she sold it to her publisher. The hardest part, she said, was structuring the story. The idea for the novel came in part from an anecdote Ng's husband told her. Maybe that fear is what makes us hide things from those we love: trying to say something, and having them of all people not understand, can be more painful than staying silent" Shelf Awareness.
Ng chose to set the novel in the s because it was "a time when the issues the Lees wrestle with were all thrown into relief" Goodreads , including the hardships mothers faced in wanting careers and the lack of acceptance of interracial marriages, which, in when Marilyn and James married, were still illegal in some states. The Supreme Court struck down interracial marriage bans in but, according to a Gallup poll, was the first year that a majority of Americans said that they approved of such marriages.
Our parents? I want the answer to be yes. Celeste Ng—pronounced "ing"—was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and moved just before she turned ten to Shaker Heights, Ohio—both areas that had few Asian Americans. Ng's parents moved to the U. As a child, Ng was an avid reader—one of her favorite books growing up was Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy —and had dreams of being an astronaut. In fact, I still do. And as a kid I loved finding cozy nooks to hide in—under tables, on window seats behind the curtains, in closets.
Ng's parents had high expectations when it came to academics. He wants her to be popular and have friends. His wife Marilyn wants to stand out. She doesn't succeed and now is transferring her hopes and dreams and expectations on Lydia. Marilyn's lost dream seems like an obsession — she has now made it Lydia's dream, pushing her so hard, reading science books to a little girl instead of bedtime stories.
What was so difficult was seeing James and Marilyn focus their attentions and their aspirations on their middle daughter Lydia while their oldest son Nath and youngest daughter Hannah suffer in silence - to say nothing of the impact of this attention on Lydia.
While I felt for the parents and what they had gone through, my heart was broken for these children, as they transferred their hopes and dreams on their daughter and hurt all of them. My heart was broken for all of them but especially the youngest child, Hannah who is almost invisible to her family. But yet, I gave it four stars because Ng has masterfully developed these characters and the story.
We learn everything about them - inside and out. We know what they look like and we know how much they hurt, the pain they bear. View all 57 comments. May 31, Melissa rated it liked it Shelves: emotional , Instead, Ng employs the emotional beings that live among her pages and their relatable family dynamics to do the job. Each character takes a turn tiptoeing into the room, catching the reader almost unaware, and inciting a level of curiosity.
Curiosity that morphs into a quest for answers in more ways than one. Something to keep in mind, should you find yourself as eager to pick this book up as I was, this is not a plot-centric novel, but rather a slow-paced character study. The storyline delves into who these characters are to their very core and what experiences have fed into their outlook on life.
Again, it's an unhurried but purposeful narrative.
The story opens with the disappearance of the middle child, fifteen-year-old Lydia. Amongst the pain, following Lydia's demise, is the somber unraveling of things once held true. Ng utilizes the Lee family to explore the intricacies of relationships when truths remain unsaid. When a misguided sense of self-preservation or a desire to spare feelings, allows thought and truth to remain unspoken.
Those words are a simple reminder to stand up to the expectations and generalizations coming from every angle. Finding the confidence and gumption to make my voice heard is essential. I know, easier said than done in some situations, right? The cloyingly depressive nature of this storyline caught me a bit off guard. Which, I have to be honest, led to a longer read time than anticipated. On the days when I did succumb to the gentle tug of the pages, the Lees stole a tiny sliver of my sunshine.
Still, while their reality is stifling at times, the overall message is one I can respect. If I'm being completely honest, I enjoyed that one a tad more. With that novel, Ng again explores the intricacies of relationships, namely between mothers and their daughters. View all 44 comments. Mar 12, Susanne Strong rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , audiobooks , five-star-books.
Have you ever felt invisible? Like you were hiding in plain sight? Or like you just didn't measure up? Like you have to fake it till you make it? For the Lee family, this is par for the course, for each member of the family has felt one or more of these things at one time in their lives, if not for their entire lives.
Growing up Chinese in the 50's, James, was an outsider - he longed to fit i 5 Stars. Growing up Chinese in the 50's, James, was an outsider - he longed to fit in. To be like everyone else. To be accepted. Once he became a Professor of American History, he gave up. Then he met Marilyn, a white woman and she treated him no differently than anyone else.
He finally felt at home. Marilyn always wanted to become a doctor and was studying to become one when she started dating James, got pregnant and they married. At once, the dreams she had for herself disappeared. James and Marilyn, poured the hopes and dreams they had for themselves into their the first born daughter and middle child , Lydia.
They decided to live vicariously through her. James wanted Lydia to be the popular one, to have friends and go to school dances. Marilyn wanted Lydia to become a doctor so she bought her textbooks about biology and anatomy as birthday gifts and signed her up for extra classes whenever possible. Lydia was a people pleaser. She smiled expectantly. Said yes whenever her mother asked her a question. She pasted a smile on her face and pretended.
Day after day after day. And then one day, when Lydia was sixteen, she was found dead. Nath, Lydia's older brother was a straight-A student. Admitted to the Harvard class of Though he was the best student, he never measured up to his father's ideals. He was never enough.. And Lydia? She always came first, she was always the child his parents sought out first, showed attention to, provided affection to and showed interest in. Nath came second. And while he may have understood how his sister felt about his parents and the attention they showed her, he couldn't help but be jealous.
Everything I Never Told You
What about Hannah, you ask? Well, she truly was invisible. Her parents hardly ever noticed her. She was an after thought. Lydia barely addressed her and Nath had no time for her, that is until after Lydia, well, until after. Everything I Never Told You is the heartbreaking examination and devastating portrayal of a Chinese-American family who are strangers to each other, of parents who never take the time to get to know their children and who let their kids slip away from them, one by one. Celeste Ng's novel haunts you. Her words are achingly beautiful, and they evoke such emotion.
Fiction review: ‘Everything I Never Told You,’ by Celeste Ng
This novel made me angry and sad all at once. Sad that James and Marilyn didn't have any idea who their children were, sad that Lydia couldn't be who she wanted to be, sad that Hannah had no one to show her affection, pay attention to her and let her know what it was like to be loved. Angry at both Marilyn and James for being so short sighted and selfish.
Just so angry that these parents never noticed their own children. It is to Ms. Ng's immense talent that she brought forth these emotions from me. I wanted to shout at Marilyn and James. About how apathetic they were, about how they disgusted me, but alas, I did not. In case you couldn't tell, I loved this book. I imagine that it will bother me for a long time to come. These characters will haunt me.
Especially Hannah. In my dreams, she is no longer invisible. In my dreams, she knows what it feels like to be loved. A huge thank you to my GR friend Linda who read this a month ago. Your review made me want to read this one. You were right. It was amazing!! View all 69 comments. I love books that dive into characters' morally grey area, and this was especially interesting because each character's perspective on their family member's death was so distinct. I felt for every character on the page and there was never a dull moment. This was really masterfully made and well fleshed out, and it was as gorgeous as it was tragic.
The audiobook for this was great and the writing style was 4. The audiobook for this was great and the writing style was definitely memorable. If you're looking to get into adult fiction and aren't sure where to start, this one definitely makes you think but is still short enough and interesting enough to keep you flying through the pages.
View 2 comments. James and Marilyn focu "How suffocating it is to be loved that much. James and Marilyn focus all of their attention on Lydia who they are determined to mold into everything that they were never able to achieve themselves, creating a crushing pressure for her that comes from both sides. When she dies unexpectedly, the glue that holds them all together is no longer able to hold. As they try to learn what happened to her—and why—they come to realize that she was not the girl they thought she was.
The reader is allowed to learn this before the family does, which creates a beautiful inside glimpse of a family crumbling. Everything I Never Told You is about just that: the subtle nuances and emotions that go unsaid, the familial tension behind closed doors that goes unnoticed, unexplored, and the way that our lineage and upbringing shape our lives, for better or for worse.
Despite the fact that this one had a few moments of lethargy at the start, it all came together beautifully, and the last half or so of the novel I finished in one sitting.
This novel, all told, was a bold and shattering glimpse into reality for all of the characters involved. It was the historical and ancestral short-fallings, misgivings and dreams unrealized that brought this book to a head in the most lovely way.
Everything I Never Told You | NEA
Ng portrayed their longing here brilliantly—longing to be someone else, to be free. And you did, until it happened again. The snatching off of a locket here, the touching of ones finger to tongue there. Mellifluous, introspective and refined, it dug into the very soul of what it means, what it must feel like, to be different.
View all 20 comments. They hit like a punch, knocking the wind out of you, these first sentences. And yet, while this part of the story runs throughout these pages, each person viewing the circumstances that led to her death in their own, inimitable way, this is the story of the years before, of all that led up to thi 4. And yet, while this part of the story runs throughout these pages, each person viewing the circumstances that led to her death in their own, inimitable way, this is the story of the years before, of all that led up to this day for each of the family members, and those whose lives they touch.
Each relationship completely different from another, separate, unique. She has raised her to want to be what she, herself wanted to become — a doctor, but never did. Nath, the oldest, had always been there for Lydia, in his own way. He resented, but became used to the way his accomplishments were overlooked as his parents shined all their light on Lydia.
He loved her, looked out for her, but he was looking forward to college, to getting away from home with no hope of escaping second place, at best. And so, in her own way, Lydia, who she really is, how she really feels, shrinks to invisibility, lost to all that her mother wants and needs for her to be. Hannah was the youngest, an afterthought, perhaps, or really more a delayed surprise, her mother had become so accustomed to life as it was that sometimes she forgot all about Hannah. They set up her nursery in the bedroom is the attic, where things that were not wanted were kept, and even when she got older, now and then each of them would forget, fleetingly, that she existed — as when Marilyn, setting four plates for dinner one night, did not realize her omission until Hannah reached the table.
Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corner, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.
Their innermost, unfiltered thoughts, their disappointments, their hurt, their anger, their passion, their hopes and dreams are all opened to view. Your heart goes out to them, even when they are not all particularly likeable. But the children… my heart is still breaking. Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system for the loan of this book! As I began this book, my mind was a clean slate, with absolutely no preconceived ideas about it, so I was really surprised by it, and stunned by my emotional response to it. Once I started it, I literally did not move from the couch until I had turned the last page.
One of the main topics addressed here is the interracial marriage between a white woman, Marilyn, and an American Chinese man, James, who marry in the late 's, at a time when such an occurrence was very rare. While this is a huge theme in the story and it is referred to often, I also picked up on the unhappiness I am sure many women like Marilyn felt in this time frame.
Marilyn was smart, very smart, and wanted to be a doctor, not a nurse , in a time when this too was very rare. Determined to have her cake and eat it to, she married the man she was in love with and started a family, but her career never materialized as planned. Marilyn eventually accepts her dream is never going to come to fruition and so it is her oldest daughter, Lydia, who must make up for this failing.
So, when Lydia disappears her parents are absolutely destroyed, and long buried feelings of resentment bubble to the surface and expose the cracks in this seemingly well adjusted and happy family. It is hard to pinpoint who is the saddest character in the story. Lydia of course was a character that really struck a cord with me on a personal level.
I know that pressure to live up to expectations you have no way of achieving, no matter how hard you work at it. Sometimes, we are are not born with the talents our parents possess and when you are supposed to live out their dream, failure to measure up is simply unacceptable. Nath's character is hard to relate to at times.
He's a guy, so his emotions are often masked in anger and bitterness. He desperately wants his father to support him and show pride in his son's rather impressive achievements, an area in which James failed utterly. Therefore, when Nath sees himself gaining an edge on Lydia, he turns away from her in hopes of finally getting a nod of approval from his father.
Then there is Hannah, the youngest child, who observes the family from afar and sees things more clearly than anyone else, but is often baffled by the actions of her family members. My heart ached for this poor neglected child who settled for crumbs thrown her way, but was just flat out lost in the shuffle, and perhaps Marilyn resented Hannah too, since Hannah's entry into the world effectively killed Marilyn's last ditch effort to finish school and achieve her career goals.
Then there is Marilyn whose character is both over the top and sad, a woman unfulfilled, terrified of ending up like her mother, while she is trapped in the same role of being a housewife and mom, she becomes so obsessed in her determination to save Lydia from this fate, she creates a toxic family atmosphere that is unhealthy for everyone and it ultimately backfires on her in a most awful, gut wrenching way. James is just too passive. He never stands up to Marilyn, they never talk about things, he doesn't stand up for his children and I really couldn't understand what Marilyn saw in him.
I was not impressed with him in any way until the very end when he appears to have a life altering epiphany that saves them all from total ruin. So, the race issue is of course running in the background because it can't be ignored. The children born into an interracial marriage were thought to have special difficulty finding where they fit in.
It was hard to make friends, to be involved in social activities and a plethora of other issues. James was of course particularly sensitive to race issues, and Nath also took racism to heart, but it is not a topic discussed within the family and Marilyn never makes an issue of it until her daughter disappears. However, I am not convinced in any way that being in an interracial family was at the root of Lydia's issues, but it was easier to place the blame on race than to take a long hard look at themselves. Outsiders, not knowing the general make up within the family were quick to hypothesize, but ultimately I felt it was more Marilyn's tunnel vision that led Lydia to a pinnacle of supreme agony, she simply couldn't cope with.
This story is sad, emotional, but utterly absorbing, and beautifully written. My heart went out to all the characters in the book, some of whom I felt more keenly for than others, but I still wanted them to come out in tact, even if they will never be completely whole again. The Lee's will soldier on, believing in second chances, and learning from their past mistakes. This is a very thought provoking and compelling read, a cautionary tale, ending with a message of hope and the promise of better days to come. View all 47 comments. Dec 23, Nat rated it really liked it Shelves: diverse-reads , library.
I'm pleased with my decision to put a few weeks of d Lydia is dead. The latter left such a lasting and unwavering impression on me, as I mentioned in my raving review , that I was unsure whether I'd get to experience such emotions again in the near future. After school, she walks to the bus alone and settles into the seat beside him in silence.
Lydia has never really had friends, but their parents have never known. At Lloyd, everyone seemed to be descended from a Pilgrim or a senator or a Rockefeller, but when they did family tree projects in class, he pretended to forget the assignment rather than draw his own complicated diagram. He set himself a curriculum of studying American culture—listening to the radio, reading comics, saving his pocket money for double features, learning the rules of the new board games—in case anyone ever said, Hey, didya hear Red Skelton yesterday?
What had he thought of her? He would never tell her this, would never admit it to himself: he had not noticed her at all, that first lecture. He had looked right at her, over and over, as he held forth on Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and John Wayne, but when she came to his office he had not even recognized her. Hers had been just one of the pale, pretty faces, indistinguishable from the next, and though he would never fully realize it, this was the first reason he came to love her: because she had blended in so perfectly, because she had seemed so completely and utterly at home.
There is such a somber mood that is perfectly captured throughout the book. The story slowly develops but is never boring. Like trying to piece together the missing pieces of a puzzle.