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Publisher's Summary

A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation.

Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet.…

So begins the story in this exquisite debut novel about a Chinese American family living in a small town in 1970s Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue - in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James' case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party.

When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is certain the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the youngest of the family, Hannah, who observes far more than anyone realizes - and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping pause-resister and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

©2014 Celeste Ng (P)2014 Blackstone Audiobooks

What members say

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  • Jami
  • VICTOR, NY, United States
  • 10-30-14

Family Secrets Abound

Disclosure: I received this audiobook free through the Ford book club; there was no requirement to review this audiobook in exchange for the freebie.

This is the debut book by this author, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were well developed, and the family dynamics were well told from the perspectives of the various characters. I particularly enjoyed the parts about the dynamics of a Chinese man marrying a non-Asian woman and the effects of the bigotry that existed at the time they were married on the family relationships. I wasn't sure until the end what happened to Lydia, and I was surprised by the ending. I had my suspicions throughout the story, but I was completely wrong - which is a good thing, as the author didn't tip her hand.

I listened to this on audio, and enjoyed it but found that I had to pay very close attention as the characters' perspectives changed without much notice. Once in awhile, I had to try and remember what perspective we were in. The narrator was very good, but I wish there had been some changes to the different character's voices to help differentiate when the perspectives changed. This may be a better read in print if your mind tends to wander at times when listening to audio books. It is also a good book to discuss in a book club, as there are a lot of interesting questions that can be raised.

39 of 41 people found this review helpful

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Character Novel

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would with the caveat that this is not a plot driven novel although it revolves around the mysterious death of a teenage girl. It's a character driven novel that examines in minute detail, and with lovely language, the dynamics within a mixed race family of five. It's mostly about what happens when parents project their own failed aspirations onto their children.

What about Cassandra Campbell’s performance did you like?

Cassandra is one of my favorite narrators. Her voice is buttery and smooth. I could listen to her recite the phonebook! Although other narrators have a more dramatic range hers is more subtle and highly effective.

76 of 82 people found this review helpful

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Amazon's Book of the Year!

This is not the kind of book I usually read, but as a member of the Ford Audiobook club I was given a copy.

The story revolves around a family that tragically fails to express their feelings and beliefs and when a horrible calamity ensues they are all tested beyond all boundaries.

We have James, the father, a Chinese American who just wants to fit in.

Marilyn, the mother, a woman who yearns for more than being a mother.

Nathan, the son, a disappointment to his father because James is reminded of himself.

Lydia, the cherished daughter, a blue eyed girl that both parent's pin all of their hopes on.

Hannah, the youngest, hiding in the shadows of a family that doesn't have room for anyone else.

Jack, the bad boy, neighbor fits into the story as the one that may have all the answers.

It's a beautifully, haunting story with a definite ending that some newer novels lack. At times, you find little love for these people that are operating at cross purposes, but in the end you come to love them all and mourn their tragedy with them.

I cried openly in the last two chapters and it was a catharsis cry that brings you to a feeling of promise and hope for a better day.

Hug your near and dear ones, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

65 of 72 people found this review helpful

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  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 02-04-15

The Burden of Dreams

We know from the opening line of Everything I Never Told You that Emily, a high school student in Ohio in 1977, is dead. In the next ten-plus hours, the mystery behind her death unfolds. We learn many things about her immediate family -- her Chinese father, American mother, envious brother, little sister -- as well as her only friend, a potentially dangerous boy who lives next door.

This is not a murder mystery. This is a character study of a family, of each individual in that family. This is an exploration of family ties -- parents projecting the burden of their dreams on their children, children trying to live up to their parents' expectations of them, the sibling rivalries that result, the secrets and lies they try to protect themselves with, albeit futilely.

But it's more than that. Without ever hitting us over the head with the bigger picture, always staying within the lines of this particular family's dysfunction, first-time novelist Celeste Ng also tackles the subjects of gender roles and racial equality, loneliness and alienation. Yet it does so without the turbulence of the outside world intruding (quite the opposite of the similarly set and similarly themed Ice Storm) -- that's how turbulent this family's life has become.

This book's emotional punch is aimed straight at the solar plexus. It is not for the faint of heart. My wife couldn't take it -- it was too depressing for her. I found it to be pitch perfect. Especially since some of these same issues dogged my own family in the exact same ways -- assimilation, expectation, emotional manipulation, sublimation, isolation, favoritism and disapproval, and most of all the necessity of lying to keep your true feelings hidden (though for us there was no tragic ending).

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • Madison, WI, United States
  • 01-06-15

Sad and bleak with a totally implausible ending

This is a sad and bleak story of the price that narcissitic and poisonous parents exact on their children. There was was good writing and some good insights until the end. But it was so, so sad.

These parents care only for themselves. They supposedly care for each other, but neither gives even a single second's thought to what the other needs or wants.They care only for Lydia to the extent each parent believes she will live out their, impossibly conflicting, fantasies of the lives they wish they had had. They care for their two other children not at all. The story paints a bleak and believable picture of how it is as impossible to be the chosen child as it is to be the neglected ones. More so, because the neglected ones have a chance to escape, whereas the chosen one is doomed. The metaphor of the prehistoric fly trapped in amber is apt. The story marches, sadly, toward its seemingly inevitable end.

SPOILER ALERT. But the author must believe in magic. Because everyone, including the poor, dead girl, is transformed in the end---all in one one day, no less. However, the parents haven't really changed. Their "transformation" is just an opportunity to exercise more of their own self-absorption. There is not a moment's guilt for what they eventually, and implausibly, realize they did to Lydia, or for the price she paid for their now, supposedly, functional family, cleansed magically of its toxicity.

I give the story 2 stars, because I did care enough to read through and find out what happened. But I don't give it 3 because of the ridiculous and unbelievable ending.

I did not like the narrator at all. Her voice was fake: all smarmy and soothing and pregnant with feeling.

25 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Teresa
  • Okemos, MI, United States
  • 07-15-15

Pretty Awful

This is a story that reminds me of something a very bright high school student would write: A caricature of parents who put too much pressure on a child. That's pretty much where this story begins and ends. I think it's supposed to be about feminism, the dangers of parents placing pressures on children, racism . . . But it's such an immature narrative that it's hard to care. My recommendation is to skip it.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Slow, Slow and Slow

I hung in there for 4 hours (of a 10 hour story) and gave up. This author really drags this story out and goes over territory that has already been gone over. I was going to return this book and get my credit back but I had already returned several books because I could not get into them so I decided to just eat this one. I have noticed lately that a lot of authors seem to like to drag out a story instead of just get on with it. I think I probably need to stick with books that are around 8 hrs because those books don't usually ramble unnecessarily.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

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So sad and not necessary.

Only choose this if you desire sadness in your life. This story absolutely was not necessary in my life. I have a plethora of sadness, in addition to lots of blessings, however a distraction is what I had wished for. Not more misery. Not some redundant sadness. And in addition, to building up the characters to show how sad their lives really are, the narrator is absolutely annoying. I had high hopes for this book, but it was not for me.

31 of 37 people found this review helpful

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  • Denae
  • manitowoc, WI, United States
  • 12-22-14

glad I stuck with this story

What does Cassandra Campbell bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

she doesn't do a flawless job of separating characters but she brings them a life that you couldn't get from print.

Any additional comments?

at first this audiobook gave me some pause. it was halting, disjointed, and confusing. when I realized the format it made much more sense. the story is told through all eyes of the family, and I found myself eager to get back and figure out what happened. there's no great mystery, really, but I thought the ending was brilliant. this is a book I might not have enjoyed in high school but that I adore now.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet.

“Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." I couldn't read the opening sentence of Everything I Never Told You and not read the book. As a mother, I would like to think that my connection to my sons is so strong that I would know if something life-threatening had happened to them. I know this maternal connection fairy tale I tell myself may be a bit at odds with reality, but it still bothers me intensely that a child could be dead and her family might not know it. Yet, that is the tragedy that befalls the Lee family. James is a Chinese-American father, married to his white wife, Marilyn. Because of his race, James has always felt like an outsider, so as he raises his children, Nath, Lydia, and Hannah in the 1970s in Ohio, he aches to have them be popular and fit in as he never has. Marilyn has unrealized dreams of becoming a doctor, and her unfulfilled dreams become her expectations for the favorite child, middle daughter Lydia. Everything I Never Told You explores how a family falls apart when they can't see, understand, and accept each other for who they really are. Celeste Ng writes this from each character's perspective while telling their stories so the reader can better understand why each family member acts as they do. She explains the culture and climate of the 1950s when James and Marilyn marry, along with the years of assumptions, misunderstandings, miscommunication, and sometimes total lack of communication that has led the Lee family to this point. There is no big reveal or twist, just a heartbreaking, poignant resolution.

There are several things that I don't understand or can't judge because I have no experience with them, and they affected how I felt about the book. I believe that a Chinese-American would have experienced some prejudice in the 1970s, and even more so in the 1950s, but I wonder if the level of prejudice displayed towards interracial parents and their children was as much as is written here. Also, Lydia seemed to be a lovely child, but I would have liked more detail as to why she was her parents' clear favorite, to the point that Nath and Lydia are barely noticed. Lastly and most importantly, I wonder about a completely reprehensible, almost unforgivable act that James commits after Lydia's funeral. I can understand being so emotionally distraught at the death of your child that you want to blot out all emotion, but what he did has repercussions later in the book, and I wish there had been some further exploration of why he behaved this way and his wife's response, or lack of it! I couldn't find any other reviewers that seemed to be bothered by this as much as I was, but it was a big one for me. This is a solid 3.5 star book, rounded up because it is a worthwhile read that has made me think.

The narrator of this book had an unfortunate habit of reducing her volume at the end of some sentences, especially during highly emotional scenes. This may have been an attempt to add some emotion to her narration, but there were some disruptive instances where it was just plain difficult to hear what was being said without rewinding and relistening at a higher volume.

34 of 42 people found this review helpful