Everything I Never Told You
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”
As her mom, dad, brother, and sister piece together the days and weeks before her death, each reveals how much they have hidden from one another… and even themselves. Moving back and forth between their present day, 1977, and their recent pasts, in Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng reveals the inner lives of the Lee family – Marilyn, the blonde hair, blue eyed mom; James, the Chinese American dad; and the three children, Lydia, their favorite and on whom their dreams hang, Nathan, the spitting image of his father, and Hannah, the forgotten one. Through this story, Ng shows us how things come together and slowly fall apart.
Each family member harbors secrets about who they are, how they’ve come to be that way, and who they wish they were. Marilyn was on track to becoming everything her mother wasn’t – namely a doctor and definitely not a homemaker – when pregnancy derails her plans. James desperately wanted to be more than the foreigner that everyone assumed him to be. His PhD in American History from Harvard was just one decision underscoring his desire to fit in. In each other, Marilyn and James find a version of who they wish they were: someone different or someone who blended in. Though neither can change who they are, their first child, Lydia, becomes the target of their missed chances. A person cannot simply be what others want for them, though, lessons that Marilyn and James should have remembered.
Although Lydia’s death is at the center of the Lee family’s story, it is an outcome rooted to years of choices and responses, many of which are the consequence of resentment. Resentment for lives unlived, words unsaid, and acceptance ungained. Through the Lee family’s unraveling, Ng weaves a story familiar in its fear: that we do not know the people closest to us. Even though ultimately each of the Lee family members want to do better and be better than their own parents, than themselves, the struggle to get there has a price.
PAIR IT WITH steamed pork buns – the taste of familiarity that reminds James of his mom and day – or whiskey – what Nathan unsuccessfully tries to drown his troubles in.