EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU

Celeste Ng

“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,

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“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.

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  • Penguin Books
  • Paperback
  • May 2015
  • 320 Pages
  • 9780143127550

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About Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son.

Praise

If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now… Ng has set two tasks in this novel’s doubled heart—to be exciting, and to tell a story bigger than whatever is behind the crime. She does both by turning the nest of familial resentments into at least four smaller, prickly mysteries full of secrets the family members won’t share… What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind—a burden you do not always survive.” —Alexander Chee, The New York Times Book Review

“Excellent…an accomplished debut… heart-wrenching…Ng deftly pulls together the strands of this complex, multigenerational novel. Everything I Never Told You is an engaging work that casts a powerful light on the secrets that have kept an American family together—and that finally end up tearing it apart.” Los Angeles Times

“Cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive… Ng sensitively dramatizes issues of gender and race that lie at the heart of the story… Ng’s themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“On the surface, this is about a mixed-race Asian-American family dealing with and trying to solve the mysterious death of their favorite teenaged daughter in ‘70s Ohio (this isn’t a spoiler, it happens in the first sentence). What it’s really about all the ways we can be an ‘other’—in society, in our own marriages, in our jobs, and to our parents or children. It’s also about pressure—the pressure to be with people who are like ourselves, and to fit in, and to be everything our parents want us to be. It’s about giving up your career to become a wife and mother, and what that means and doesn’t mean. It’s about dealing with prejudice. It’s about secrets and happiness and misery, and all the things we never tell the people we love. It’s about everything, is what I’m saying, and not a single word is wasted or superfluous.” Amanda Nelson, Book Riot

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the relationships between Nath, Lydia, and Hannah. How do the siblings both understand and mystify one another?

2. Why do you think Lydia is the favorite child of James and Marilyn? How does this pressure affect Lydia, and what kind of impact do you think it has on Nath and Hannah? Do you think it is more difficult for Lydia to be the favorite, or for Nath and Hannah, who are often overlooked by their parents?

3. “So part of him wanted to tell Nath that he knew: what it was like to be teased, what it was like to never fit in. The other part of him wanted to shake his son, to slap him. To shape him into something different. . . . When Marilyn asked what happened, James said merely, with a wave of the hand, ‘Some kids teased him at the pool yesterday. He needs to learn to take a joke.’” How did you react to the “Marco Polo” pool scene with James and Nath? What do you think of James’s decision?

4. Discuss a situation in which you’ve felt like an outsider. How do the members of the Lee family deal with being measured against stereotypes and others’ perceptions?

5. What is the meaning of the novel’s title? To whom do the “I” and “you” refer?

6. What would have happened if Lydia had reached the dock? Do you think she would have been able to change her parents’ views and expectations of her?

7. This novel says a great deal about the influence our parents can have on us. Do you think the same issues will affect the next generation of Lees? How did your parents influence your childhood?

8. “It struck her then, as if someone had said it aloud: her mother was dead, and the only thing worth remembering about her, in the end, was that she cooked. Marilyn thought uneasily of her own life, of hours spent making breakfasts, serving dinners, packing lunches into neat paper bags.” Discuss the relationship Marilyn and her mother have to cooking and their roles as stay-at-home mothers. Do you think one is happier or more satisfied?

9. The footprint on the ceiling brings Nath and Lydia closer when they are young, and later, Hannah and James discover it together and laugh. What other objects bring the characters closer together or drive them further apart?

10. There’s so much that the characters keep to themselves. What do you wish they had shared with one another? Do you think an ability to better express themselves would have changed the outcome of the book?