Everything I Never Told You (Ng)

Everything I Never Told You 
Celeste Ng, 2014
Penguin Group (USA)
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780143127550



Summary
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .

So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. 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. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage.

Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one anothera. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1980-81
Raised—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Shaker Heights, Ohio, USA
Education—Harvard University; M.F.A., Michigan University
Awards—Hopwood Award; Pushcart Prize
Currently—lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Celeste Ng [pronounced "ing"] grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.

Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You (2014) was a New York Times bestseller and was also included as one of the paper's Notable Books of the Year. It was named a best book of the year by more than a dozen other publications, won several awards, and was a finalist for a number of others.

Little Fires Everywhere (2017), Ng's second novel, was also published to rave and starred reviews.

Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is the recipient of the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. (Adapted from the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Wonderfully moving…Emotionally precise…A beautifully crafted study of dysfunction and grief…[The book] will resonate with anyone who has ever had a family drama
Boston Globe


When Lydia Lee, the favored daughter in a mixed-race family in '70s Ohio, turns up dead, the Lees' delicate ecosystem is destroyed. Her parents' marriage unravels, her brother is consumed by vengeance, and her sister—always an afterthought—hovers nervously, knowing more than anyone realizes. Ng skillfully gathers each thread of the tragedy, uncovering secrets and revealing poignant answers.
Entertainment Weekly


With the skill of a veteran heart surgeon…Ng writes of maternal expectations, ingrained prejudice and sibling conflict in a culture that has just begun to grapple with interracial marriage and shifting gender roles
MORE Magazine


(Starred review.) This emotionally involving debut novel explores themes of belonging using the story of the death of a teenage girl, Lydia, from a mixed-race family in 1970s Ohio.... Lydia is remarkably imagined, her unhappy teenage life crafted without an ounce of cliche. Ng’s prose is precise and sensitive, her characters richly drawn.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) Ng's debut is one of those aching stories about which the reader knows so much more than any of the characters, even as each yearns for the unknowable truth.... [A] mesmerizing narrative...[and] breathtaking triumph, reminiscent of prophetic debuts by Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, and Chimamanda Adichie, whose first titles matured into spectacular, continuing literary legacies. —Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
Library Journal


(Starred review.) The cracks in Lydia’s perfect-daughter foundation grow slowly but erupt suddenly and tragically, and her death threatens to destroy her parents and deeply scar her siblings. Tantalizingly thrilling, Ng’s emotionally complex debut novel captures the tension between cultures and generations with the deft touch of a seasoned writer. Ng will be one to watch. —Carol Haggas
Booklist


[L]ong-hidden, quietly explosive truths, weighted by issues of race and gender, slowly bubble to the surface of Ng's sensitive, absorbing novel and reverberate long after its final page. Ng's emotionally complex debut novel sucks you in like a strong current and holds you fast until its final secrets surface.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Discuss the relationships between Nath, Lydia, and Hannah. How do the siblings both understand and mystify one another?

2. Why do you think Lydia is the favorite child of James and Marilyn? How does this pressure affect Lydia, and what kind of impact do you think it has on Nath and Hannah? Do you think it is more difficult for Lydia to be the favorite, or for Nath and Hannah, who are often overlooked by their parents?

3. “So part of him wanted to tell Nath that he knew: what it was like to be teased, what it was like to never fit in. The other part of him wanted to shake his son, to slap him. To shape him into something different.... When Marilyn asked what happened, James said merely, with a wave of the hand, 'Some kids teased him at the pool yesterday. He needs to learn to take a joke.’”

4. How did you react to the “Marco Polo” pool scene with James and Nath? What do you think of James’s decision?

5. Discuss a situation in which you’ve felt like an outsider. How do the members of the Lee family deal with being measured against stereotypes and others’ perceptions?

6. What is the meaning of the novel’s title? To whom do the “I” and “you” refer?

7. What would have happened if Lydia had reached the dock? Do you think she would have been able to change her parents’ views and expectations of her?

8. This novel says a great deal about the influence our parents can have on us. Do you think the same issues will affect the next generation of Lees? How did your parents influence your childhood?

9. “It struck her then, as if someone had said it aloud: her mother was dead, and the only thing worth remembering about her, in the end, was that she cooked. Marilyn thought uneasily of her own life, of hours spent making breakfasts, serving dinners, packing lunches into neat paper bags.”

10. Discuss the relationship Marilyn and her mother have to cooking and their roles as stay-at-home mothers. Do you think one is happier or more satisfied?

11. The footprint on the ceiling brings Nath and Lydia closer when they are young, and later, Hannah and James discover it together and laugh. What other objects bring the characters closer together or drive them further apart?

12. There’s so much that the characters keep to themselves. What do you wish they had shared with one another? Do you think an ability to better express themselves would have changed the outcome of the book?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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