Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.
If you had asked me if I recommended this book right after I finished reading it, I probably still would have been unenthusiastic, but I would have said yes. Now it’s been about a month since I finished it and I had to sit and think to remember anything of what it was about. If it can’t even last a month before I’m struggling to think of main plot points, that’s not a great sign.
After thinking about it (and looking at some of my annotations while reading), I’ve remembered that this is a very slow story investigating the way each member of the family handles her death, as well as a very light mystery into the why of her death. There’s infidelity, and mistrust, and guilt, and all kinds of things to be excavated from each of their hearts. Feelings are the front-and-center of this story, and not much really happens by way of action.
Told in a dual-timeline, there are flashbacks to when she was alive and we follow her around a bit, get in her head. This is where the revelations of the “why” come from, as we see the pain and pressure she carried. That feeling of being alone, trusting no one, comes up a lot for each of the characters in their own way. Their grief seems to isolate them, despite that they are all dealing with it.
Ultimately, it was fine at doing what it set out to do (that being a character psychology exploration). Nothing in it really blew me away, and unless I knew someone really enjoyed this kind of story I probably wouldn’t be recommending it in general. Clearly it didn’t stick in my head too much. The writing itself had some really lovely lines though, so the pure experience of the words added well to it. I savored some lines, and reread them slowly to think about them. But as a whole, meh.