Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng tells the story of Lydia Lee, a 16-year-old mixed-race, Chinese-American girl, who was found dead at a local lake in suburban Ohio. Her parents are utterly distraught by their loss, and no one knows whether or not Lydia’s death was an act of suicide. The course of the novel reveals the various social and cultural pressures Lydia endured from her parents. Her father, who faced significant racial discrimination in his youth, wants his daughter to have the popularity and social life he never had as a teenager. Her mother, however, wants Lydia to achieve academically, so she does not become a homemaker or housewife. This push-and-pull dynamic is explored heavily throughout the novel as well as the psychological repercussions it had on Lydia.
Celeste Ng’s own experiences as an Asian woman heavily influenced the narrative of the book. The prejudice she experienced as a child were vesseled into the Lee family as they bear life in a predominantly white neighborhood. As Ng told Jessica Gross of Kirkus Reviews, all the racist actions depicted in the novel “are things that either [her] family experienced or other Asian families that [she] knew experienced,” so she “didn’t really have to do much research on that at all.” Everything I Never Told You contributes to a racial dialogue that is often discussed in terms of black-and-white. It brings to light the struggles of an Asian-American family, and even further, the stigma behind interracial marriages.
When it was published in 2014, Everything I Never Told You received great praise and recognition. It was a New York Times bestseller and also won Amazon’s Book of the Year over submissions by renowned authors such as Stephen King and Hilary Mantel.