In May 1977, Lydia Lee goes missing. A few days later her body is found in a nearby lake. The surrounding search and police investigation reveal to Lydia’s family that they may not have had such a clear idea of who their daughter and sister was and what moved her. Figuring out Lydia and her life also means figuring out their own lives and what they have become.
Everything I Never Told You is a fantastic novel. It’s sad and sensitive and hopeful and made me cry more than once. It’s simply beautiful.
Just speaking from a technical standpoint (though of course, the craft cannot be separated from its emotional impact), Everything I Never Told You is beautifully written, with evocative language and perfectly handled perspective shifts – and the perspective shifts a lot between the family members. Thus Ng gives us a perfectly written novel with complex characters that are as loveable and understandable as they are fucked up and fuck each other up. Rarely have I read a novel that manages to show so deftly how intertwined love and cruelty can be.
I especially liked Hannah, Lydia’s younger sister. I was very much with her because she was such a great character. But ultimately this just boils down to personal preference, because, really, all of them are very, very great.
The novel is also insightful about race – Lydia’s father is Chinese-American, her mother is white, a constellation that highlights a lot of racialized and racist issues. Especially for me as a white person, I felt that I learned a thing or five from it all. (I did wonder, though, whether it was necessary to set this story in the 70s – so many stories that touch on racism are set in the past, giving the impression that racism is a thing of the past, too, which is, of course, not true at all.)
If there is one thing that I might criticize about a novel that is as great as this one it’s the implication of the ending. [SPOILER] It turns out that Lydia killed herself, although she may not have entirely meant it. She was hoping that her death would fix her family, basically, give them a new start. And since her death does bring her family closer together and helps them to get to a more honest life with each other, in the end Lydia’s hope comes through. Which is pretty much romanticizing suicide and not good. [/SPOILER] I can look past it, because the rest of the novel was just that good to me, but your mileage may vary on that.
Other than that, though, I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever. It was one of the best books I read in a long time.