Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet. Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; 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 centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting. When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest in the family - Hannah - who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened. Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page-turner, about secrets, love, longing, lies and race.
Celeste has very kindly shared the thoughts and ideas that prompted her to write her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You.
My husband was reminiscing about his school days—in particular, about a friend who’d been a bit of a troublemaker in his youth. When they were seven or eight, my husband said, he’d been playing at this friend’s house and his friend had pushed his own little sister into a lake.
It was a funny anecdote with a happy ending: the parents pulled the sister from the water, the friend was in big trouble. But I kept thinking: what had this brother-sister relationship been like before that day? What would it be like after? And—this was the question that haunted me, perhaps because I’m a writer, perhaps because I’m a morbid thinker, perhaps simply because I’m a terrible swimmer—what if the parents hadn’t been there?
The story grew from that little seed. Lydia, drowning, was the first image I wrote. I pictured the lake in my own hometown, a beautiful pool we called the Duck Pond. It is small enough to see across, but a boy in my grade had nearly drowned in it when he was six or seven, and it had always seemed a bit sinister to me after that. I imagined it at night, when it would be very quiet and the lake water would be almost black, and imagined Lydia plunging below the surface. Then I tried to trace the story back, to figure out how she’d gotten there, and why she’d been at the pond that night.
As the novel developed, the particulars changed: Lydia, the girl in Everything I Never Told You, is sixteen when she drowns, and the circumstances of her death aren’t immediately clear. But it all started with that image of a girl falling into the water.
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. www.celesteng.com @pronounced_ing
“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now… Ng has set two tasks in this novel’s doubled heart—to be exciting, and to tell a story bigger than whatever is behind the crime. She does both by turning the nest of familial resentments into at least four smaller, prickly mysteries full of secrets the family members won’t share… What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind—a burden you do not always survive.” — ALEXANDER CHEE, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"[A]n accomplished debut... It's also heart-wrenching. Ng deftly pulls together the strands of this complex, multigenerational novel. Everything I Never Told You is an engaging work that casts a powerful light on the secrets that have kept an American family together — and that finally end up tearing it apart.’ — LOS ANGELES TIMES
‘The mysterious circumstances of 16-year-old Lydia Lee's tragic death have her loved ones wondering how, exactly, she spent her free time. This ghostly debut novel calls to mind The Lovely Bones.’ - MARIE CLAIRE
[A] moving tale... of daughters for whom cultural disconnect is but the first challenge – VOGUE "Both a propulsive mystery and a profound examination of a mixed-race family... [an] explosive debut."— ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
A "cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive debut ... Ng's themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense."— O MAGAZINE
‘Emotionally involving [...] Lydia is remarkably imagined, her unhappy teenage life crafted without an ounce of cliché. Ng’s prose is precise and sensitive, her characters richly drawn.’ — ★ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
‘Ng constructs a mesmerizing narrative that shrinks enormous issues of race, prejudice, identity, and gender into the miniaturist dynamics of a single family. A breathtaking triumph, reminiscent of prophetic debuts by Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, and Chimamanda Adichie, whose first titles matured into spectacular, continuing literary legacies.’ — ★ LIBRARY JOURNAL (STARRED REVIEW)
‘I couldn't stop reading Everything I Never Told You . . . the writing is so smooth and keenly observed. The portrait of each member of the Lee family, the exploration of their mixed-race issues and the search for the killer of their sister and daughter, Lydia, pulled at my heartstrings to the very end.’ - UWEM AKPAN