The novel Everything I Never Told You reflects a crushing society

Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, contains merciless depictions of soul crushing society and how a Chinese-American family copes with the suffocating tradition of the 1970s. 

Right off the bat, Ng hints at the touching journey ahead with the opening line, “Lydia is dead.” Following the intrigue of this introduction, the reader is compelled to continue in hopes to discover and explore the context behind this unexplained death. In order to introduce the mystery and depth behind Lydia’s death, the narration jumps around on an inconsistent timeline between different characters. 

This starts with Lydia’s mother, Marilyn Lee, afflicted with the extreme dissatisfaction of being a suppressed woman in the 1950s. From youth, her ambitions are fueled by the will to prove the misogynistic norms wrong; especially her mother’s, who defines Marilyn’s worth as her ability to find the most “valuable” husband. This ploy causes the determination that follows Marilyn throughout her life. While living being a token college student – incessantly studying in hopes of one day earning the title of a doctor – Marilyn meets James, Lydia’s father, and casts aside her personal intentions for this new trajectory. This sacrifice forever plagues Marilyn with regret, and when she identifies her daughter as a symbol of possibility, she devotes all her attention to young Lydia’s success: “It was a sign, Marylin decided. For her it was too late. But it wasn’t too late for Lydia.”

Opposing Marilyn’s desire to stand out, James Lee is desperate for any opportunity to blend in. As a man of Chinese origins but surrounded by American culture, James accounts for the loneliness and humiliation of racism that plagued his youth. Even past his maturity from childhood, he still insatiably looks for the satisfaction of feeling “normal.” His insecurity reaches past the confines of his own person to the rest of the family; denying them from becoming any form of extraordinary. With this, Lydia not only receives the pressure of a mother hungrily seeking ambition, but of a father desperate to disguise her as a general archetype for American teens. Nonetheless, this dynamic is not evidently visible until Lydia’s perspective is introduced: in which readers navigate the suffocation coming from two parents living vicariously through their child, and the devastating repercussions that follow. 

Although Lydia’s death ignites new, profound problems for the Lee family, the real identity of the tragedy came long before. By exploring emotional content from different narratives, the readers witness their desolate contrast: Each character’s desires picking and prying at each other until they are left bare. There is no doubt that Ng allows her readers an intimate idea of each character. With the beautiful illustrations of emotions that are both formidable and relatable to any reader, Everything I Never Told You brings a personal heartache (and a couple tears) to its readers, quickly becoming an embodiment of experiences and emotions too complicated to describe.