Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite 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 she 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 is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
From the first pages of Everything I Never Told You, there’s such a thick layer of sadness enclosing the whole atmosphere that even the happier memories tend to float in a grayish filter. Nothing is bright, nothing really shines, every little joy being somehow washed by wave after wave of sorrow, unspoken regrets and more than anything, longing. Longing to be either yourself or someone else, to fit in or to be unique, longing for love, for dreams, for things to be different or exactly the same, for freedom or belonging. Longing for all the things that make us human and for all the things that make us different.
I haven’t really stopped reading once I learned how to, as a child. Not during teenage years, not during adulthood. But I realized now, while reading Everything I Never Told You, that it’s been more than a decade maybe since a book offered me some sort of… revelation. I cannot find a better word. During the years of adolescence, when I was questioning everything and looking for answers, I searched for and found books after books that would allow me to form my thoughts, that indirectly shaped the way I think, that made my mind buzz with ideas. But since then, somehow reading turned from thirst of knowledge into entertainment only instead.
And I can’t remember discovering any more bewildering novels. Novels that would shake me, that would suddenly make me grasp an idea that feels like it’s completely new and in the same time, like it’s been always floating there, under a shallow layer, so close, but always out of reach.
And although the whole novel of Celeste Ng is somehow bursting of examples, one insignificant scene was the one opening my eyes about this: how hard we hit the ones we love the most, when we are furious on anything else besides them. How in that explosive moment, we don’t care how exposed, innocent and hurt they are and nothing else matters besides our own anger. And how poisonous is the mix of guilt, fury and pride that forms in the seconds after, how it swells in your throat so much that it hurts and doesn’t let you breathe or swallow. We never learn that the guilt won’t ever disappear, even if, perhaps, the memories themselves might fade with time. In that impulse, we always forget that the guilt will survive even after the people won’t be there anymore, that the guilt will hover around, surrounding and intoxicating any recollections, outbalancing any facts or feelings, no matter how much we try to ignore it.
As cheesy as it may sound, I feel grateful for reading this book and amazed by the author’s ability to paint such raw images, to make me feel such diametrically opposed feelings in the same time, to make me sense each character’s pool of grief, regrets, silences and vulnerabilities. I did not read Everything I Never Told You. I felt it, I lived it. There weren’t many things to make me connect with the characters or to identify myself with their own stories, but the author’s talent makes you empathize with all of them, transfering you their feelings as if they were your own.