Advanced reader copy received from publisher (Little Brown Book Group UK) via NetGalley.
Release date (UK): 13th November 2014.
Reading an advanced release copy of a debut is a bit of a punt – you can never be sure whether you’re reading the next big thing, or something which is destined for the bargain bin. But Everything I Never Told You is already making waves and I have a feeling this book is only going to get bigger.
Everything I Never Told You tells the story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s Ohio. The eldest daughter, Lydia, vanishes one night and is found dead in the local lake. It has a cracking first line: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast”. But this is not your standard mystery thriller story. It’s hardly a thriller to be honest. But it’s a lot more than that.
Through elaborate detail and shifting narratives Celeste Ng weaves a rich story connecting the entire family thread by thread; Lydia, her Chinese father James, her white American mother Marilyn and her brother and sister, Nath and Hannah. It starts with the morning Lydia goes missing and jumps back and forward in time; examining events which have made each of them who they are up and juxtaposing these events with the present day investigation into Lydia’s disappearance and death.
This family is not your average family – each individual has their own convoluted inferiority complex. Marilyn, the beautiful blonde all-American girl growing up in the 1950s was determined to rebel against society’s convention and become a doctor, until she succumbed to love on meeting fellow University student, James Lee. After falling pregnant unexpectedly at a relatively young age, she proceeded to transfer all of her own dreams onto her daughter, and puts constant pressure on Lydia to study, in the hopes of her becoming a successful doctor in her mother’s place.
The couple’s following two children, Nath and Hannah, are somewhat left on the sidelines. As a result, Nath is brooding and independent and Hannah, the youngest child, “grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.” But it is infact Hannah who turns out to be the most observant of them all.
At the core of this story is an examination of what it means to be different; illustrated throughout elegant prose; “Sometimes you didn’t think about it at all. And then sometimes you noticed the girl across the aisle watching, the pharmacist watching, and you saw yourself reflected in their stares: incongruous.”
The complex characters strive to stand out and be different and crave to fit in with convention in equal measures as the tale explores issues of gender, race and sexuality at a time of change during 1970s America.
Whilst it touches on serious, political issues this novel does it in an emotive manner so that the topics never seem dull or laboured. The focus of this tale is the people and Celeste Ng gives her characters true depth and scope as she fleshes out the history of the fragile family dynamics.