“Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng novel opens on May 3, 1977 with the disheartening first sentence, “Lydia is dead.” The balance of the book tells the story of how the family got to that day. Marilyn and James Lee along with and children Lydia, Nathan, and Hannah are the only Chinese family in this medium-sized Ohio town in northern Ohio where James teaches at the local college. Ng created characters with purpose. Their stories are ones of isolation, disenfranchisement, and solitude. Backstories fill in details as individual family members struggle with finding a role in the family and in a community where everyone knows one is different by just looking. Personalities come out in conversations as story moves along to that day in May.
An interesting participant in the book is not a person but the Betty Crocker Cookbook. Marilyn’s memories of her mother center on that cookbook and its advice to homemakers of the time. Marilyn wants more than to marry just a Harvard man, but that is what she did. Her daughter has a different view of the book and its significance.
“Everything I Never Told You” is easy to read, but its implications are far reaching. The Lee family reflects the atmosphere and attitudes of the time. Some things have changed since 1977, but many things remain the same.