Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Author: Celeste Ng
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: some swearing, a little bit of sex, very sad, death of a child
Lydia Lee is sixteen, struggling in physics, exaggerating her social life, trying to live up to her parents' expectations. Lydia Lee is also dead. A child's death would undo any family, but this family, living in a small Ohio college town in 1977, seem wholly unmoored for many different reasons. This child, the middle child of a history professor of Chinese descent and his Radcliffe-educated (premed until she got pregnant and dropped out) wife, seemed to encompass the hopes and dreams for the entire family, and when she's gone, what does that mean for the rest of them.
Everything I Never Told You is beautifully written, thought provoking, and absolutely haunting. We don't know if Lydia's death was an accident, a murder, or a suicide, and as the story progresses, we see how the dynamics of her family and her life led her to the lake that took her life. Her parents, both sad and solitary, both tentative, both formed by how different they wanted to be from their parents and the ways they fell short, both unsure in their relationship with each other, both have high hopes for Lydia. Marilyn wants her to be a doctor, as she surely would have been. Every gift she receives from her mother is a book about women in science or a stethoscope. Her father, on the other hand, wants his daughter to have friends, to be popular, even though she is from the only Asian family in town. He gives her party dresses and Dale Carnegie books and encourages her to go to school dances.
While Everything I Never Told you is ultimately hopeful, most of the book is incredibly sad. As a parent, I'm hyper attuned to the fact that what I say can be misconstrued by my kids (or correctly construed, as the case may be), and this book seems to focus on all the myriad ways we can screw up our kids. It's a hard book to read, but also a beautiful, worthwhile read, and a useful reminder for parents, especially for parents of teenagers.