It’s no spoiler to reveal that a major character in Everything I Never Told You is dead by the time the story begins. In fact, the novel opens with the line “Lydia is dead.” What follows is a beautifully written and heartbreaking novel that attempts to solve the mystery of “why”?
Marilyn Lee, Lydia’s mother, has always wanted to stand out. But her dream of becoming a doctor has been quashed by marriage, motherhood, and the societal expectations of women in the ‘60s and ‘70s. By contrast, Lydia’s father, James Lee, has wanted nothing more than to fit in. The son of Chinese immigrants, he has always felt like an outsider in his own country, and fears the same will happen to his mixed-race children. Both parents unwittingly try to live vicariously through their favourite daughter. Both think they know everything there is to know about Lydia: obedient daughter, star student, popular classmate. So when she disappears and is later discovered at the bottom of the nearby lake, they are devastated—and confused. Was it a tragic accident, was it murder—or could Lydia have done the unthinkable and taken her own life?
Set in small-town Ohio circa 1977, the story jumps back and forth through time, and is told through multiple perspectives. Marilyn, James, Lydia, and the couple’s other two children, Nathan and Hannah, all reveal bits and pieces of the secrets that may tear the Lee family apart forever. I highly recommend checking out Ng’s debut novel, which begs the question: how well do we really know our loved ones?