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Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (3/5)

13 Oct

If you’ve never heard of the Ford Audiobook Club on Goodreads, I highly recommend you check them out. For a while, they were giving away copies of an audiobook once per month to host discussions on their forums. I downloaded two books this way that I’ve been saving as ‘in between’ audiobooks. The first was Edan Lepucki’s California and the second was Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Yes, this one was much better.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Summary from Goodreads:

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins this debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart.

My faith in Ford Audiobook Club has been restored! I enjoyed this book more than I expected with the low precedent set before this. Lydia was a character I related to a lot. I think a lot of us feel pressured to follow in our parents footsteps one way or another. Maybe it’s marriage or children, a career, a school, a job, sports achievement, or something completely different. Parents want their children to achieve as high as they did if not higher and some push their children too much, like Marilyn. Even if we haven’t experienced it, we’ve seen it or heard about it. I liked the setting and characters as well, they made for a unique set of characters in a book. The only thing that bothered me was the time hoping, it happened too seamlessly.

I thought the three children were well done. We have Lydia, the one living out her mother’s dream who doesn’t know what she wants for herself. I liked that Lydia wasn’t the oldest, that was a nice touch for me. I liked her rebellion and how we learn a bit about it in the present before it’s visited in the past. Nath was a great character to me, probably my favorite. I liked that he craved some attention and pitied Lydia for all the attention she got. Hannah seemed like a natural companion to these two, the one who watches everything and knows what’s going on without being in the way. I liked how she sneaked around.

My favorite character is a toss-up between Nath and Jack, which seems very fitting. I thought Nath was a great brother and that made me like him. He knew a lot about what his sister was doing and only interfered when he thought she was in danger. He never said anything about her fake phone calls, but when it came to a guy with a shady past, he was all over that. I liked Jack because he was so different from what we thought of him initially. I liked the flashback story about him and Nath playing Marco Polo. I thought from then that he couldn’t be so bad. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but I thought the end of Jack’s storyline was amazing! Really great.

I’m very fortunate that my parents didn’t pressure me much to follow in their footsteps growing up. Both of them were engineers who went to a small engineering school and didn’t play sports past high school. The only thing I ever felt they expected of me was scholastic success and that wasn’t hard for me. But I had friends who were less fortunate. I have a friend whose academic achievements were overlooked by his parents in favor of his sibling’s athleticism. I had friends who went pre-med to appease parents when they wanted to study the arts. And I’ve seen a number of people go to college after high school to appease parents when that’s not a good path for them. I think Lydia’s struggle is universal and setting it in 1970s Ohio was a nice touch.

Celeste Ng Image via Twitter

Celeste Ng
Image via Twitter

As I said, I liked Jack’s storyline best. I thought he developed in the eyes of the narrators and I liked that. He went from rough lady-killer to a friend to something very different. He had complicated relationships with more than one main player and I liked how his mother being a doctor worked into the plot. Overall, he was well-integrated and a very pivotal side character.

I was a little disappointed with the end of Lydia’s story. That is, the story she tells on the night of her death. I wanted more, either a stronger reason it happened or more about the experience of dying itself. I know that sounds grim and vague and I’ll agree that it’s grim, but I’m trying not to give the ending away!

The past/present blend in this book didn’t work for me. I’d get confused when the author crossed over between the two because I felt the lines between them were blurry. I would have liked a stronger distinction between the time before Lydia’s death and after she’d passed. Especially in Nath’s story, I found it hard to distinguish.

The audiobook I received was narrated by Cassandra Campbell who also worked on Gone Girl. I’m a fan of her narration because you don’t notice it. She does a good job of telling the story in a way that’s not distracting from the words she’s reading. There are no accents and her inflection falls where I would put stress were I reading the book. I might have to start searching for books by her.

Though part of our personalities is indubitably based on our upbringing, not all of a person is determined by nurture. If that were true, I’d be an engineer and would think triathlons were ridiculous pursuits. It’s hard to recognize the differences between ourselves and those that are supposed to be most like us. I’m glad my parents didn’t try to make me into a copy of themselves and I hope I can do the same for my children.

Writer’s Takeaway: There’s been a big push to ‘write diversely’ lately. We are a world of diverse people yet a lot of characters seem to be cookie-cutter versions of what the ideal American looks like. I thought she mixed races, sexuality, and socioeconomic status well in her book. It was a good example of how a book can have diverse characters without feeling forced. I struggle with this in my 1920s novel and I’m looking for ways to make my characters less uniform. I had a good lesson right here.

Good and enjoyable. I was hoping for a bit more action, though. Three out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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