Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Length: 10 hours
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Original Publication Date: 2014
Genre(s): Contemporary, Fiction, Mystery
In a small Ohio town, a young girl named Lydia Lee is found dead in the local lake. Lydia, the middle child in the Lee family. Lydia, whose mother wants her to be a doctor and whose father wants her to be the popular girl with tons of friends. Lydia, who couldn’t swim, but was at the lake anyway. The police are certain her death was a suicide, but the Lee family can’t quite believe it. Not their Lydia. But as the days after her funeral turn into weeks, the Lee family begins to unravel, and they come to face the reality that maybe they didn’t really know Lydia. Maybe they all don’t really know each other.
**Mild spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read the book.
Told in third-person, Everything I Never Told You explores the family dynamic through each member’s eyes as each deals with Lydia’s death in their own way. I thought this would be more of a YA mystery than what it actually is: a character study of each member of the Lee family. As someone who loves character arcs, you’d think this book would be right up my alley, but I didn’t fall as in love with it as I’d thought I would.
I quickly came to realize I disliked everyone in the Lee family. Yup, even Lydia, the dead girl. I feel like every member of this family just acted without thinking. All the time. Like, totally irrationally. Like, Nath just decides to be a jerk to someone without actually knowing why he needs to be a jerk. James is a filthy cheater but still thinks he’s allowed to get upset with his wife for every little thing. Marilyn ditches her family to be a doctor without once talking about it with her husband, without even thinking of another way other than just disappearing for 4 months. Lydia does stupid stuff to get on her brother’s nerves when all she really wants is to be his best friend and tell him what’s on her mind. Like, come on, people……… I guess the only character I actually liked was Hannah, the youngest child. She was innocent and actually really brave. Everyone else sucked.
Unfortunately, though, it’s a super realistic representation of what most families are like. My family, for instance, is just as messed up as this one. Probably worse. And while I may judge the characters for acting the way they did, I can kind of understand, in some ways. Everyone in my family hid stuff from each other. Me the most.
While I disliked the characters, I didn’t necessarily dislike the story. It was an interesting dissection of each character and very unlike most books I’ve read. I could have done with less background about the parents, James and Marilyn. I wanted more from the children, Lydia especially. I thought it would be more like The Lovely Bones, like a posthumous Lydia talking about her life and her family and stuff. I was way off base. Clearly. But I did enjoy seeing this family separately and how they fit together as a whole.
The writing was the best part about this novel. Ng is very detailed—she dots all her i’s and crosses all her t’s. Everything is described so perfectly. She really knows how to make your heart sink and how to throw something into the story you totally didn’t expect. The last 2 hours of the book really hurt to read, but they were certainly the most captivating.
I’ll end this review by saying, parents, please for the love of all that is holy, do not buy your child How to Win Friends and Influence People. It is not a book anybody wants to read. Ever. Take it from Lydia. And myself.
“People decide what you’re like before they even get to know you.”