A 1970’s mixed-race family is pulled apart when their middle, and favourite, child Lydia is found dead at the bottom of the lake. The older brother suspects the boy Lydia’s been secretly hanging out with down the street while the parents are torn between thinking she was murdered or she committed suicide. The youngest daughter, quiet and observant, watches as her family unfolds in front of her. If only they’d listen to her about what she knows.
This book had been briefly on my radar and it was really by chance that I was at the library for another book that I saw this one sitting on the shelf and thought I would check it out. I was not prepared for how emotionally affecting this book would leave me. Every year in Jamie’s end of the year book survey there’s a category of “the book that crushed your soul” and I never really had a definite answer for it. Until now. This book crushed me.
Ng, a debut author, captures so well the nuances of a family with societal pressures coming at them from all sides. While interracial relationships are more common now, it wasn’t so much in the 70’s. It’s not a dynamic that I’ve seen much of in the books that I’ve read, but one that I’d love to see explored more. Even the role of women has changed quite a bit in the last 40+ years and Ng writes the matriarch of this family to be one who envelopes so many inner conflicts between her career life and family life. The suffocating pressure is palpable especially in Lydia, who wants only to please her parents and thereby letting her mother live vicariously through her. What started as a noble and sincere gesture gets out of hand as the years go by and the workload increases.
Thankfully, growing up, I didn’t have parents who put immense pressure on my sister and I. That’s not to say I wasn’t aware of it in other kids who experienced that kind of high level of expectation. I remember hearing about news stories of students in Hong Kong who killed themselves over receiving a not-perfect grade and therefore would rather die than face the parents’ disappointment. The question that is devastatingly explored in this book of whether Lydia committed suicide or was killed is what is holding her family together by a thread. Perhaps it’s because of that, the familiarity of the cultural dynamic, that I felt so connected to this family.
Everything I Never Told You is so gut-wrenching and heart breaking. I’m not often this greatly affected and saddened by something I read but I felt my heart continue to sink as I flipped page after page as Lydia’s fate was revealed.