As part of wanting to feel older and wanting to do things that matter, I had decided to stop reading fiction or, in the least, read less off it. Motivational books are great to read, especially when you are feeling motivated. You cannot say the same for those times when you just want to relax — to switch off and not think about work, or even your life and the way it is not turning out the way you planned it. So, on one of those days I picked up this book.
It was slow at first, and the fact that I had many other interesting books to read did not help. The other reason I took long to get really engrossed in the book was the 1970’s setting! Call me shallow, but I am all about everything new (maybe that is what is wrong with our generation!). Anyhow, when I finished the other books I started reading Everything I never told you.
It is a story of a Chinese American family in small-town Ohio that struggles through the death of one of the daughters, Lydia. The book starts off laying down the main story, announcing Lydia’s death, even before the rest of the family members know. You would think that would make you less eager to keep reading, but as the family learns about her death, you are drawn into their lives and emotions — each of them coping differently. Lydia was the parents’ favorite child and all her father’s and mother’s attention dwelt on her. Her American mother strived to make her everything she never was, she tried to relive her life through her daughter and see the success she had wanted for herself in Lydia. Her father of Chinese origin, on the other hand, did not want his daughter to ever have to feel different. Growing up, he had had people point out all his differences, and it had turned him into a sort of loner. He did not want any of that for Lydia. He kept buying her all the latest dresses and asking her to do the things other girls her age were doing. He so desperately wanted her to blend in.
With all this attention and demands from her parents, Lydia felt trapped. To make it worse, her mother disappeared some time when she was younger and she blamed it all on herself. She promised that when she came back, she would do everything her mother wanted to keep her from going away again. And she did! It did not matter whether she wanted to, or not. Her siblings, on the other had, felt invisible. Nothing Nath or Hannah did or wanted to do was as important as Lydia’s. They lived in her shadow, loving her, and a few times resenting her. When she died, they would all think back on what they might have done to drive her to that point.
I liked how unpredictable the book is. For a part of it, I thought Lydia had committed suicide following all the pressure everyone was putting on her. A neighbor’s son, Jack, later comes into the picture — he is your typical bad boy, and he becomes friends with Lydia. Of course, I then imagined he had something to do with her drowning, I mean, even Nath thought it. I was later to learn that Jack actually liked Nath, and had no romantic feelings for Lydia. I then concluded that Lydia had committed suicide because Jack did not like her back. But later on towards the end, you find out that Lydia had regained clarity. She wanted to regain control over her life, after being challenged by Jack who declared his feeling for Nath to her, notwithstanding the times they were leaving in. Lydia thought rowing out on a boat in the middle of the night, and swimming back (she did not know how to swim) was all part of overcoming her fears and taking back her life. She did not kill herself, she just drowned. It was an accident. But her family would never know that. They would have to live with the loss, each with their own guilt.
I usually don’t try to learn about the author until the end of the book, but I could feel from reading this book that this author was drawing some of these thoughts from her own experiences.Celeste Ng‘s was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her parents moved from Hong Kong, China in the late 60’s.While working on this book, she pulled from her own experiences of racism as well as her family and friends, and I think that is what gave the book more soul. I liked the plot and how it was laid down in the book. The narration would go back and forth between the present times and the past without losing its unity. It is one very well written story of family, love, loss and humanity. It leads you to reflect on your own life, and the people and things you hold dear. I am glad I read it.