Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You Study Guide

Everything I Never Told You is the debut novel from Chinese-American author, Celeste Ng. The story begins with the drowning of Lydia Lee, a Chinese-American girl growing up in a small Ohio town in the 1970s. As the local police investigate the cause of Lydia's death, the novel delves into the Lees' complex family dynamic. The audience gains insight into the various social and cultural pressures Lydia faced from her parents. Lydia's father, James, is incessantly mocked for his Asian heritage in his predominantly-white community. Marilyn, Lydia's white mother, continues to struggle with the fact that an unplanned pregnancy thwarted her pursuit of higher education. Though Lydia does not understand the complex motivations for her parents behavior, the novel explores the residual, generational effects of family trauma.

In various interviews, Ng has explained that her own experiences as an Asian-American woman profoundly influenced the narrative. Ng's decision to have the story take place during the 1970s provides a historical context for the normalization of interracial marriage in the United States. Although interracial marriages were indeed prevalent in American society, the Supreme Court only reversed interracial marriage bans in 1967. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Lydia's death is the breaking point for the Lee family. Along with James and Marilyn, Lydia's siblings, Nath and Hannah, must confront their insecurities and face the challenges that accompany their family's biracial identity.

Following its publication in 2014, Everything I Never Told You was praised by critics and topped the New York Times Bestseller List. In a 2014 interview with National Public Radio, Ng explained her motivations for writing about the Lee family. She says, "I think in the United States we talk about race as a black and white issue. ... We're generally talking about it as if it's a binary equation whereas, in fact, there's more than two races and in fact those races blend together. There are a lot of different ways that people identify. I think as we have more interracial marriage and we become more aware of all these issues, we may start to talk about race in a more complicated way." As of 2019, the novel's rights were purchased by a film production company.