Review: Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

Here comes my second read for the A More Diverse Universe blogging event, hosted by the wonderful Aarti! Visit the event’s links page to find out what other folks are reading, and keep an eye on the hashtag #diversiverse.

With the caveat that I stupid-loved my first read for A More Diverse Universe, I have to say that this, my second, was a bit of a disappointment. In a way it’s my own fault: Everything I Never Told You is about a family struggling to deal with the unexpected and mysterious death of the eldest daughter, a teenager called Lydia; and I give very little benefit of the doubt to books about families struggling to deal with the loss of their pretty teenaged daughters. That is not my genre.

If that is your genre, though, I can recommend this book pretty highly. Ng nails the different ways of grieving, and the dynamics of a family in pain. The story of Lydia’s loss isn’t one huge dramatic event, but rather a series of smallish ones, all leading to a final tragedy. Sound like your jam? Go for it.

But I was hoping for a delicate and unexpected exploration of differentness, and I didn’t really get that. Lydia is the daughter of a Chinese father, who just longs for his children to fit in, and an American mother, who gave up her dreams of being a doctor when she had a family, and who doesn’t want the same fate for Lydia. There’s a lot to unpack there, but I thought Ng hit predictable beats every time. The characters’ motivations were very pat, a simple one-to-one correlation of life event to emotional impact, and it took away power from a book that depicts grieving very well. (Which I was less interested in.)

They read it too: River City Reading, S. Krishna’s Books, She Treads Softly — and let me know if I missed yours!