Celeste Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, takes place in Ohio in 1977, and deals with the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old Chinese-American girl, Lydia Lee. Ng’s choice to use the 1970s as a setting allows her to examine racial differences with so much true-to-life consideration. She also practices this successful technique when it comes to discussing the societal role of women, particularly within the confines of such a small and secluded town.
From the very beginning, we as readers are given more information than those around Lydia. Ng tells us that Lydia is already dead, but her family are completely unaware of this fact, and continue to cling on to the hope that she will walk back into their lives as though nothing has happened. The fissures within the family come to light as the story moves on, and one finds oneself continually drawing one’s own conclusions about what has happened to cause Lydia’s death.
Ng’s writing style and the plot which she has crafted is absorbing. She has taken into account a generational mixture of characters, whose reactions to Lydia’s disappearance – and later to her death – have been well considered and are, as a result, believable. Each of these characters has been followed in turn, which allows Ng to build both her creations and the story in which they find themselves.
The structure of the novel – which outlines portions of the story from the perspective of different periods – ensures that the reader’s attention is held throughout. A great deal of themes are at play in Everything I Never Told You too, from secrets and deception to grief and racism. The pace works nicely, and the whole has been very well written. Nothing is quite as it seems, and surprises are thrown up throughout, making Everything I Never Told You one of the most thought-provoking contemporary novels of late.