3 Important Discussions in ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng

I recently finished reading ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng, and after loving ‘Little Fires Everywhere‘ by the same author I was excited to delve back into another Celeste Ng novel.

‘Everything I Never Told You’ is about a young girl, Lydia Lee, who goes missing at the start of the novel. The book then considers the aftermath of her death, how the family copes with the loss- and it goes back in time to the events leading up to Lydia’s disappearance and death, and even considers when Lydia’s mother and father first met.

The story is told from various viewpoints, but in particular it looks at Lydia’s mother and father, Marianne and James, her brother Nath, and her sister Hannah.

As the book goes on, it is clear that every member of the Lee family has their issues- and these issues have been affecting the family unit for a long time. As a Chinese boy growing up in 1950s America, James Lee is still battling insecurities about belonging and racism- and he pushes these attitudes on his children while they grow up.

His wife Marianne has no qualms marrying the man she loves in a time when their marriage is frowned upon (and even illegal in some states)- but she too battles with her demons. She has regrets from her time in college, and she tries to force Lydia to realise the dreams she herself never had chance to achieve.

And the children are all battling their own problems too, with Lydia experiencing a lot of inner turmoil as the only Chinese-American girl at her school. Hannah and Nath are always overlooked, and they also have to deal with insecurities and barriers of their own as they navigate growing up.

I really enjoyed this book and I loved reading about the Lee family as they try to work out what happened to Lydia, and who she really was. ‘Everything I Never Told You’ was full of important discussions, looking at one family’s experience of loss, friendship, love, and race relations.

Below, find 3 important discussions in ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng

1. Growing up as a Chinese-American in 1970s America

Race and the sense of belonging that comes with it is an important discussion in ‘Everything I Never Told You’. The book goes back to James’ time as a young Chinese boy in 1950s America- and the trouble he had a posh boys’ boarding school. His parents worked at the school, and he grew up ashamed of his roots- and he has never been comfortable in himself since.

James is also uncomfortable in his relationship with Marianne, finding it hard to deal with the racist stares and comments of others at seeing a white woman and Chinese man together.

James projects this lack of belonging on his children growing up in 1970s America. He encourages them to be well-liked and popular above all else- and makes them feel like they are doing something wrong when they find it hard to fit in.

I thought it was really important that Celeste Ng discussed life as a Chinese man, and also the perspective of Chinese-American children growing up in America- and it was very interesting to understand a different point of view to what I’m used to reading.

2. Loneliness and grief

The discussion about loneliness and friendship in this book was really interesting- and I particularly enjoyed Lydia’s discussion about her growing friendship with Jack. It was clear that Lydia struggled with loneliness and the sense of “otherness” projected from her father.

This loneliness pushed Lydia to become friends with Jack, the “bad boy” in town, and I enjoyed the parts from Lydia’s point of view all about her pursuit of her neighbour. I think with the ongoing pandemic, we’ve all experienced loneliness in one form or another- and Lydia’s struggles will be relevant to a lot of young women growing up today.

I think the perspective from Hannah’s point of view was also really interesting, with Hannah experiencing her own form of loneliness as a young child. Lydia was the favourite child, and so Hannah and Nath were often forgotten by their parents- and one of the reasons Nath applies to Harvard is to attract the attention of his dad.

The way that each member of the family dealt with grief differently in the novel also made for an interesting and insightful read, showing the range of emotions caused by this death. Nath was angry and agitated, and James used sex to forget about his feelings. The family’s story was insightful and powerful, and each character was on their own journey- but also played a key role within the family unit.

3. Unrealistic expectations

‘Everything I Never Told You’ is all about the expectations placed on Lydia Lee- by her father, her mother, and her classmates. Her mother didn’t manage to finish medical school in a time when women rarely made it into college- and so she pins all her hopes and dreams on Lydia, hoping she will become a doctor and live up to Marianne’s unrealistic expectations.

Nath and Hannah also have to deal with these expectations, facing neglect from their parents as James and Marianne focus all their attention on Lydia. I loved this discussion about unrealistic expectations and the effect it had on a young girl growing up.

When the narrative switches to Lydia’s point of view, the reader realises that Lydia doesn’t want to realise her mother’s dreams- and in fact these expectations are damaging her school life, making her feel out of control.

What do you think of the important discussions in ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng? Have you read this book? Have you read any books by Celeste Ng?

Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

Happy reading x

54 thoughts

  1. This sounds like an interesting read! I have little fires everywhere already on my reading list, so I must add this too! It sounds like the theme were interesting too and as you said loneliness can relate a lot to what we went through, but I am most curious about the experience of being an immigrant in the 70 and the unrealistic expectations. Thanks for sharing, it was a great review x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a powerful book! I see this so often in so many children regardless of race where the expectations from their parents are so unattainable that it leads them down a spiral of depression, insecurities and anxiety. These are all such important issues to emphasize constantly! Thanks for sharing, Eleanor x

    Lynn | https://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I can imagine those kind of pressures must crush a child- and damage a family. Thank you for sharing Lynn, I agree that it’s so important to understand these experiences and hopefully improve attitudes in the future 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t read the book and I wasn’t planning on it, but the last part in your review changed this. I am always into reading about what happens when unrealistic expectations are put onto children or spouses or anyone in a family. I found out through your review that in some small aspects I relate to some of the context and so my curiosity certainly took a boost. Thanks for the wonderful review 🙂


  4. Great post lovely and it’s amazing how much fiction books can teach you and help open your mind to what’s going on. I haven’t read any of this authors books but I did watch Little Fires Everywhere and loved it. So I’ll need to pick some of her books up! x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! I really liked both books by this author, Little Fires Everywhere even a bit more than this one but both are amazing :- )

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read that book before but it sound like I need to since there were so many great takeaways you got from it. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This made me excited to read this book! I read the first one by the same author and it was quite a read -I really enjoyed it.

    I love the way you write about the books you read, in the form of discussion -it really is amazing! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love that this book also tackled some relevant issues in our society nowadays. It helps readers to be more aware and open our eyes to see other perspectives and experiences. You really did a great work in this review! Should definitely check this out xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oo, I still need to read ‘Little Fires Everywhere’, it’s been on my TBR for ages! Great review and discussion, I love how you structured this post. It sounds an interesting read, especially in how the characters react to grief differently x

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve always found it weird how Americans mix their ethnicity with their nationality to make Chinese American and African American, it’s not something we do in the UK as nationality and ethnicity are two completely different things. To me at least, it feels that by putting these two together than you’re somehow only part of both, rather than fully both

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is such an interesting concept and something I can relate to as an Asian American. I didn’t realize how many other people don’t grasp the “otherness” until I had a similar conversation with my husband (who’s half black, half Mexican and way too Texan).

    Will absolutely be putting this on my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I really enjoyed this book too! I highly recommend Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang which is a memoir of a Chinese-American girl and her experience immigrating to the US as a child.

    Liked by 1 person

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