EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU is everything I was hoping to find. If you read the opening lines and expect a murder mystery: you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you read the description and expect an ethnic narrative: there’s some of that, but again, you’ll be disappointed. If you are looking for literary brilliance and familial introspection: you’ll be enthralled.
“He was mesmerized by her deftness.” As her characters admire one another, so I admire Celeste Ng. She offers a killer opening, crisp writing—a blend of beauty and mystery—and a goosebumps-producing ending. Tears were shed. Seemingly miniscule items, such as a smudge of yellow paint on the wall, carry huge emotional meaning.
“She’d worked her way through it, a little each night, savoring the words like a cherry Life Saver tucked inside her cheek.” That’s how I treasured this book, such as Ng’s created daughter character did with her book—cherishing every morsel, every drop of flavor. Here’s such a line that caused me pause for no less than an hour: “The hypothetical past perfect, the tense of missed chances.”
The fully realized characters are never without conflict: “I always had one kind of life in mind and things have turned out very differently.” Everyone has their own backstory, their own secrets, their own dreams. Each controls another in their own ways, each uniquely independent. Each are highlighted through chapters taken at different times and angles and perspectives.
There are heart-wrenching moments that I can recognize in my own life, both as my own person and as a parent. Here in EVERYTHING I HAVE NEVER TOLD YOU, the main mother to her daughter is always, “plugging her ears by filling her head with dreams.” Meanwhile, the Harvard-bound son was largely a shadow in the background. “In a few months he would be gone, and she would be left alone to win friends and influence people and pioneer in science.”
Life is fragile. Life is tender. As we watch the “moon drift across the sky like a slow balloon” we see the pressure placed upon a precious child. “She knew at last where everything had gone wrong. And she knew where she had to go.” It is almost unbearable to witness, yet it is all too familiar.
My only complaint is that I’m now craving “eggs made five different ways.”
You can find a preview of this book, along with nearly 2,000 other reviews, here: Everything I Never Told You: A Novel (Alex Awards (Awards))