Lydia is dead. She was the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee. The middle child of a Chinese American family, who lived to realize the dreams neither of her parents could achieve for themselves. The story opens with the revelation that Lydia is dead, but no one knows yet why. They know that one night she disappeared. They know that she was found dead, drowned in the lake by their home. Torn apart by their grief, James and Marilyn, and Lydia’s brother and sister, Nathan and Hannah, remember fragments of their lives, of Lydia’s life, of their life as a family of sorts, in Ohio in the 1970s.
Everything I Never Told You is a beautifully heartbreaking novel of family and race and gender and the secrets we keep from everyone who loves us, from everyone who thinks they know us so well. James is disappointed when his son does not become the popular, sport loving teenager he could never be himself. He does a poor job of masking this disappointment, and resentment festers between father and son. His hopes turn instead to Lydia, who pretends to be the popular girl. The girl who loves everything everyone else loves. But Marilyn wants the opposite for Lydia. She wants her to stand apart. To grow up and become a doctor. She wants her daughter to know that she can be anything. But instead, Lydia believes she can be only what her parents want her to be, or they will fall apart.
“She buried her nose in Lydia’s hair and made silent promises. Never to tell her to sit up straight, to find a husband, to keep a house. Never to suggest that there were jobs or lives or worlds not meant for her; never to let her hear doctor and think only man.”
As the Lees fall deeper into their grief and despair, they fall farther and farther from each other. Nath can’t wait to escape to Harvard. Hannah is often forgotten about entirely. It is a painful story told in a beautiful way. I listened to the audio book of this one, narrated by Cassandra Campbell, whose voice became a part of the story for me. She tells it in such a way that conveys every feeling felt by every character throughout the book, and for once I didn’t find myself wishing instead for the actual book (though I’m sure it was an equally great experience). Campbell’s voice made the book come alive in my head in a whole new way.
I don’t want to go on too much, as I don’t want to give anything away, but I highly recommend this if you haven’t already read it. it was one of my (and so many others) favorite books of the year, and I know it’s one I’ll return to again.