Summary: Set in a small town in Ohio during the 1970s this debut novel revolves around the disappearance and death of teenage Lydia, the favorite daughter of Marilyn and James Lee. However, the tragic death and the mystery surrounding it serve as a backdrop for larger struggles within the family and society. James, the American-born son of Chinese immigrants, wants nothing more than for his daughter to be popular and well-liked while his wife Marilyn, a stay-at-home mother, wants nothing more than for her daughter to fulfill her dream of going to medical school. These tensions take their toll on the family as the mystery unravels.
Review: Everything I Never Told You manages to be both an engrossing page-turner and an intimate portrayal of the complexity inherent in any family. It is easy to forget that Loving v. Virgina, the decision that finally struck down laws banning interracial marriage (like that of the Lees), was passed in 1967. Ng deftly captures the issues of the time, including race, gender and identity, through the lens of one family’s deeply personal experience. Lydia’s ethnicity makes it difficult for her to achieve her father’s dream of popularity and social acceptance where the only other children of Asian descent in her school are her brother and sister. Lydia’s mother pushes her to succeed in school in order to fulfill her dream of becoming a doctor. Ng slowly reveals the Lee family’s secrets all the while keeping hold of the many pieces of the narrative. The writing style is compelling and the characters are well developed. I highly recommend this debut for anyone looking for a captivating, beautifully written story.
Read-a-likes: If you are looking for another story of an immigrant family dealing with tremendous loss be sure to check out The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob. The Lovely Bones by Anne Sebold is another family drama centered around the death of a teenage girl and creatively told.