Everything I Never Told You

6 of 90
Everything I Never Told You
304 pages; The Penguin Press
The opening sentence of Celeste Ng's cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive debut, Everything I Never Told You, is characteristically unsparing: "Lydia is dead." This stone-cold fact creates immediate tension, not least because Lydia's parents, James and Marilyn Lee, and siblings, Nath and Hannah, don't yet know.

A few days into the search for the missing girl, Lydia's body is found at the bottom of a lake—a discovery that shatters the Lees and causes a series of buried truths to surface. Ng's narrative shifts back and forth in time, revealing the discrete, hidden stories of family members and offering clues to the central mystery, producing a creeping sense of dread that belies the novel's calm, controlled tone.

Ng sensitively dramatizes issues of gender and race that lie at the heart of the story. We learn how James, a son of Chinese immigrants, attempted to deny his roots—his parents, language, and culture—to seek an American identity, and that Marilyn once abandoned both husband and children to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, only to be thwarted by an unintended third pregnancy. These plot lines coalesce in the character of Lydia, who is doomed to carry the burden of her parents' foiled ambitions and of their desire to belong. Ng's themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense.

— Alice Whitwham