Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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everything i never told you Celeste Ng

Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Originally Published: 2014
No of Pages: 179
Genre: Novel, Thriller

#1 New York Times Best Seller


Lydia is no longer alive. But they are unaware of this.

So begins this wonderful story about a Chinese American family in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. Lydia is Marilyn and James Lee’s favorite child, and her parents are adamant that she will achieve the ambitions that they were unable to pursue.

When Lydia’s death is discovered in a nearby lake, the delicate balancing act that has kept the Lee family together is thrown into disarray.


The story of Everything I Never Told You begins in 1977. The Lees appear to be typical in every way: a working father, a stay-at-home mother, three children, and a comfortable home in Ohio. Except Lydia, their middle kid, is no longer alive… and they are unaware of it.

That may appear to be a spoiler, but it isn’t. Lydia’s body is discovered by the conclusion of the first chapter, as stated in the blurb and the first phrase. So, take a deep breath and relax.

Lydia’s death prompts everyone in the Lee family to rethink their lifestyles and exposes some uncomfortable realities. As a background inquiry unfolds, they realize they didn’t know Lydia – or each other – as well as they thought. Their bright, popular, effervescent girl was actually a tangle of anguish, with few friends and falling grades. It comes out that James and Marilyn Lee hadn’t done as good a job as they believed of concealing their own problems from their children.

In this family drama, race is a key theme. A lot of the friction derives from the fact that in the 1970s, white regional Ohio was not a welcoming environment for Chinese Americans, and mixed-race families faced uphill battles on all fronts – internal and external. These challenges have taken on new significance in the aftermath of the novel coronavirus outbreak in late 2019 in the United States (and, I’m afraid, other areas of the world).

Despite the depravity, Ng’s language sparkles – she knows exactly how to draw a reader’s gaze down the page. I especially like her succinct and accurate descriptions (“a woman built like a sofa cushion” and “a florid ham hock of a man”). She has stated that she worked on Everything I Never Told You for six years, writing four drafts. Her diligence paid off handsomely.

Ng received the 2014 Amazon Book Of The Year prize, beating out popular favorites Stephen King and Hilary Mantel. Readers and journalists alike applauded her household psychodrama and representation of the harm that parents may wreak on their children.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s what this book is about: the weight of parental hopes and goals, even (particularly) unacknowledged ones. 

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About Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng is the number one New York Times bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere and Our Missing Hearts. Ng is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, and her work has been published in over thirty languages.

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