This book is tough. It’s centered around an emotionally devastating premise — the untimely death of a teen girl — and the tension of that mystery unfolding is coupled with a stark examination of gender politics and middle-class family dynamics. It’s the type of story that doesn’t let the reader breathe easily, as it seems too real, and, for many of us, too relate-able in a lot of ways. One minute, you feel deeply for James or Marilyn Lee, struggling with being an outsider and taking opposite approaches to combating the judgement of others. The next, you hurt for their children Nath, Lydia, and Hannah, and the myriad ways that parental expectations — too few and too many — can suffocate a loyal, well-meaning child.
And, worse than all of that, is the realization that this isn’t a mystery in the sense of the fictional genre: you, the reader, might know by the end of the book what really happened to Lydia, but her family never will. And then your heart breaks even more.
Everything I Never Told You is emotionally exhausting and tough to get through. At the same time, the pacing and the direct, honest prose keep the reader engaged and out of the quagmire of despair (so to speak.) This is Celeste Ng’s debut and it’s fairly stunning that she managed this much emotional intelligence and skill in her first publication. People seem to be pretty stoked on her follow-up, so I’ll start preparing myself now for the gut punch that is sure to be.