When I opened Everything I Never Told You I wasn’t prepared for how hard or how fast I’d fall in love. It was magic. Fireworks. A lightning bolt to the heart. It was the electric feeling that reminds me why I read.
The buzz around Celeste Ng’s debut novel was palpable when it hit the shelves last summer, and I quickly added it to my list expecting to get around to it “eventually.” I was delighted this year when I realized it would fit within my personal challenge and a rave review from a friend solidified its spot on my reading list.
The first lines tell you just about everything you need to know:
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast.”
The “they” here—Lydia’s mother, father, sister, and brother—will become the stars of the story as they struggle to understand and accept Lydia’s death. Through shifting perspectives, we inhabit each family member fully until it’s impossible not to feel like you know each and every one of them.
Everything I Never Told You isn’t just about loss, but race, gender, sexuality, and the weight of expectations that come with being one of the “first”—whether it’s the first woman in a chemistry class, the first nonwhite professor on university staff, or the first child to go to college.
Ng’s powerful use of language packs the kind of emotional punch that lands with a sick thud right in the gut.
The chapter when Lydia’s mother, Marilyn, remembers her once-bright future as a medical student affected me the most. In Marilyn, I remembered my own mother asking me when I was 16 if I’d sign up for physics, just for her, because when she was in school “that was just for boys.” She wasn’t allowed to take it.
So when Marilyn thinks of her life without her family—
”Without a husband, without children, perhaps it would have been possible. I could have done that, Marilyn thought, and the words clicked into place like puzzle pieces, shocking her with their rightness. The hypothetical past perfect, the tense of missed chances. Tears dripped down her chin.”
—I shudder and feel the tears rolling down my own cheeks.
In the end, this was a book I hated to put down. I always wanted to make time for one more sentence, one more page. I borrowed my copy and already know I’ll be buying it. It’s by far my favorite book I’ve read this year, and I can’t wait to read what Ng writes next.