Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Posted 13 October, 2015 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 21 Comments

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Everything i never told youTitle: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell | Audio Duration: 10 hr, 1 min
Published: 2014 | Pages: 320 | Genre: Fiction
Rating: Quiet, Absorbing, Beautiful

On Amazon | On Indiebound | On Goodreads | On Audible

In Short: Lydia is dead–or so the novel begins. The teenage middle child of the Lee family is found drowned and as the family tries to piece together what may have happened, their own threads begin to unravel.

Why I Listened: Everything I Never Told You was one of the most buzzed about books last year and having listened to Campbell’s narration in the past I knew that’s the way I wanted to go (plus I can always seem to get to buzzy type books on audio well before paper).

Thoughts in General: Going into Everything I Never Told You, I knew that this was a family drama surrounding the death of a family member and that honestly didn’t appeal to me too much. What I found instead was a look into the lives of all of the Lee family members–from the three children to their mother and father, both past and present. I also didn’t realize that the book was set in the 1970s (and earlier) which provided an interesting backdrop for the biracial marriage between James (Chinese) and Marilyn (white). Identity, especially for the children, plays a large part in the story.

What really hit me regarding the book, though, comes straight from the title–how many secrets do we hold within ourselves? What do we keep from our partners or children? What goes left unsaid? When it’s all said and done, is it worth keeping those truths within us and present an outward lie? I loved the way that Ng slowly peels back the layers of the Lee family to show the reader all of the complexity that lies within. Everything I Never Told You broke my heart about a billion different ways.

The writing in Everything I Never Told You is beautiful–the narration is omniscient so we see everyone’s thoughts and desires. I’m not sure if this was a function of the audio or not, but the narration seemed to jump around from character to character quite frequently. While this can feel jarring in some books, it felt so seamless within this one–almost like we focused on one character and then the baton was passed to the next and we were then inside that person’s head. I wish I had some quotes from the book to share with you…but audiobook pitfall.

Bottom Line: I was really struck by Everything I Never Told You. I think common complaints about the book might be that it is too dark or sad or that there isn’t a lot that happens throughout the book (this is one of those character driven stories I love so much). However, the story and the characters made me reflect upon my own life and I think this book would make a great book club selection. This will likely make my list for favorite books of 2015.

Notes on the Audio: I loved Cassandra Campbell’s narration for Everything I Never Told You. Her quiet and reflective tone was perfect for the book and made for a compelling listen (I know, quiet and compelling don’t seem to go together). While I imagine this would also be a great read on paper, I would absolutely recommend listening to Everything I Never Told You!

Have you read Everything I Never Told You? Do you enjoy books dealing with familial issues?

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21 Responses to “Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng”

    • Definitely listen to the audio Kathy! And while it is more of a character study, there is the mystery of Lydia’s death and that really propels the narrative. Those little revelations throughout the book really kept me listening…I actually looked for excuses to listen to this one (give me all the laundry to fold!). ;)

  1. Cassandra Campbell is one of my favorite narrators so this appeals to me for that if for no other reason. Any book that involves the death of a child tends to immediately end up on my “Nope” pile but this sounds like it goes quite a bit deeper than just the murder and grief. I’m curious about this one and will definitely look for the audio version.

  2. I really really really think I should prioritize. I’ve been reading too much junk and the good stuff gets unread. I have had my eye on this a while and it is still unread!

  3. I read the paper book earlier this year, and it seemed like something I shouldn’t have liked, but I did. The 70s was a added bonus.
    Also, Cassandra Campbell is one of the few narrators whose name I recognize on its own. I’ve listened to quite a few by her, and she doesn’t disappoint. The Woman Upstairs, The Angry Optimist, Painted Girls, and Dark Places – all great. I can’t wait to get Orange is the New Black read by CC.

  4. I kind of hated this book. It seemed like it should have had a moral stamped on the front, like a children’s series I saw years ago that said “buy this book if your child needs a lesson about ____.” But then I talked to a friend who liked it better and she pointed out that it’s set in the early 70’s, so some of the attitudes about marriage and jobs are straight out of the 50’s, Lydia’s parents’ formative years.

    • I’m certainly curious to hear more about what moral aspects you were thinking of when reading this. The relationship between Marilyn and Lydia was so heartbreaking in so many ways but I think that Marilyn really wanted for Lydia what she could not have herself–though I think that with the 70s backdrop perhaps some of this was a bit more progressive back then than we would view it to be today? I didn’t realize when I started this book that it was set in the past and it was something that was difficult to discern via audio–I remember being really confused at first what the time period was.

  5. I really liked this one. It broke my heart but it was so beautiful, I forgave Ng. Looking forward to reading more of her books.

  6. I am nervous to read this one because of how often the word “heart-breaking” shows up in reviews. I definitely want to give it a go, but I think I need to wait a bit – I read two pretty sad books for #diversiverse this year!

  7. Most reviews I read like this book. I will get to it! I actually used that beginning line as an example of story hooks and flashback plot lines in my AP Lit class the other day. See, reading everyone’s reviews makes me sound smarter!

  8. I have been wanting to read this one for some time. I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten to it yet. I really like books that delve deep into family issues, especially in regards to secrets and the consequences of those secrets or the consequences of what happens when those secrets come out. I am glad you liked this one so much, Trish.

  9. I’m so glad you loved this one! I agree that the narrative voice jumps from character to character and that this might be confusing for some (especially on audio), but Ng just made it happen so fluidly.

    Great review!