Category: Suspense and Thriller (Literary Fiction)
Jhuuuu (hands on my head) that’s all I can say after putting down this beautiful yet tragic family portrait that is “Everything I never told you”. I went in expecting one thing but ended up getting another, I expected to just be another reader but I ended up being a Hannah. For the first time in a long time I was emotionally invested in the characters even went through a mourning period after the last sentence.
This debut novel by Celeste Ng (pronounced Ing) is set in 1970s America in small town-Ohio (where diversity is still frowned upon). It centers on the sudden vanishing of the middle daughter, center of the Lee family universe, Lydia. The Lee family is Chinese American and the writer gives you a brief history lesson on the journey of the Chinese immigrant in contrast to that of European immigrants.
“It was the story of nearly every Chinese immigrant from the time of Chester A. Arthur to the end of the Second World War. While the Irish and the Germans and the Swedes crowded onto steamship decks, waving as the pale green torch of the Statue of Liberty came into view, the coolies had to find other means to reach the land where all men were created equal.”
The story is more than just a thriller it touches on grief, one thing I hated was how the parents were so obsessed with their own pain that they forgot their children. The book also touches on racism, and the pressures of wanting to fit in, it also holds a mirror to the pressure parents unwittingly put on their children. Lydia was pressured by her mother Marilyn to become a doctor (the irony being Marilyn’s mother also pressured her which led to their relationship becoming strained.) Then there’s James the father who wants Lydia to be popular (something he never experienced in his childhood). This un lived dream that James has is a leading cause for the broken down relationship between him and his son Nath.
“Part of him wanted to gather his son into his arms, to tell him that he understood. Even after almost thirty years, he still remembered….to tell Nath that he knew: what it was like to be teased, what it was like to never fit in. The other part of him wanted to shake his son, to slap him. To shape him into something different. Later, when Nath was too slight for the football team, too short for the basketball team, too clumsy for the baseball team, when he seemed to prefer reading and poring over his atlas and peering through his telescope to making friends, James would think back to this day in the swimming pool, this first disappointment in his son, this first and most painful puncture in his fatherly dreams.”
Celeste’s character development is such that she reveals each character bit by bit and as just as you feel you know them she introduces you to another character and she weaves them so well together. You hear the side of each character and when you see all the secrets that they are keeping from each other and the fatal consequences you want to get involved. You want to shake them and hold a family meeting and pull this family together, I told you I got emotionally involved.
“(What about Hannah? They set up her nursery in the bedroom in the attic, where things that were not wanted were kept, and even when she got older, now and then each of them would forget, fleetingly, that she existed…. Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.)”
My favorite character was Hannah who witnessed everything from underneath the table, for me she represented the hope of the family but they always overlooked her but towards the end…. Nope hold up before I spoil it all, I would advise that you get yourself a copy, settle in comfortably into your reading corner, and immerse yourself in this well written family portrait.