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by Celeste Ng
Penguin, June 2014
304 pages
ISBN: 159420571X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When the Lee family wakes up to realize that their favorite daughter, Lydia, is missing, each member of the family begins to face his or her role in her disappearance. Those roles are closely examined throughout the book, as the reader attempts to determine why Lydia's body was found in the local lake several days after her disappearance. Was it suicide? An accident? A murder? And who is, ultimately, responsible?

The book moves from decade to decade seamlessly as Ng explores the impact of the mixed race marriage of Lydia's parents, Marilyn and James, on the family. James, an American-born Chinese man, and Marilyn, a Caucasian woman, marry in the 50s when anti-miscegenation laws are still on the books in Marilyn's home state. Each brings their own perspective on being "the other" to the marriage, and the impact of being the outsider plays out in their children's lives as well as their own relationship and lives. Marilyn, who chafed against her mother's push toward marriage and a traditional female role, wanted Lydia to be the doctor Marilyn never became. James, who never fit in anywhere, wanted Lydia to be popular. Lydia's brother, Nath, took advantage of the spotlight placed on Lydia to travel his own path. And Lydia's much younger sister, Hannah, was forever the observer outside of that spotlight.

Ng does an outstanding job of characterization in EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU as she examines the impact of misunderstandings based on clashing world views. Each of the members of the family is finely drawn, feeling like people we might know. The desire to live life through one's children will resonate with some, while the way in which siblings sometimes work together and sometimes are toxic to one another will resonate with others, Each reader will find a point of entry to Lydia's story and will find be both devastated and encouraged by the ending.

Ng employs a number of extended metaphors, and the first time the reader recognizes one it is as if the layers of an onion fall open to reveal an internal truth. Having realized what Ng was almost subliminally accomplishing about midway through the book, I was very tempted to turn around and begin again. But Lydia's story is compelling, and the writing propels the reader forward. This book can be read on many different levels. Its complexity is apparent at the end, when the various strands all come together in Lydia's final moments to explain how and why she died.

Published in 2014 as a debut novel, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU will be followed with a sophomore effort in 2017, LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE. I can hardly wait!

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in rural Wyoming.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, April 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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