Everything I Never Told You — It’s Like a Punch in the Gut, but Great

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Title:  Everything I Never Told You
Author:  Celeste Ng
Rec?  So yes.  Get this book.

I read this for the “Read a Debut Novel” part of the Read Harder Book Challenge, thinking, like I do with most books, that I’ll be intrigued and entertained, and then move on to the next book.

Oh god, I was so wrong.  I’ve never finished a library book and immediately ordered it to own, but by golly, I did here.

Ru Freeman wrote, of the story, “It is impossible to resist grieving alongside each one of these…characters” and that is wholly accurate.  From the first two sentences — “Lydia is dead.  But they don’t know this yet.” — that leads into the uneasy normalcy of the morning, you become part of this family.  You don’t know them yet, but you will, deeply and intensely, sharing things no one else knows, not even the family.  And soon, it’s not just Lydia’s death you grieve, but the small deaths they  keep to themselves:  a dream, a family, a connection.

Celeste Ng uses point-of-view shifts to an effect I’ve never seen before, not just between breaks, but between paragraphs, in the middle of a fight, letting us peer into the thoughts and misunderstandings of each character.  Best of all, the book sings for it.  Not once was the flow broken or the narrative jumbled with each different shift; instead it swelled and swept, molding the past and present together in a way unparalleled.

I do not cry, as a rule, yet several times I found myself setting the book down because my vision blurred with tears, sometimes along with the characters, sometimes to be the tears they could not shed.  The craving to be different, the ache to fit in, the wish to be recognized, the desire to understand, and the overwhelming burden of being made into someone you’re not; each one hits with a visceral impact.

The story of a mixed-race, wholly American family, from the 1950s through the ’70s, with the burden that comes from others’ views and expectations, resonates sharply today.  Even when you’re not the only mixed family in town, that unwanted attention is still there, an underlying tension that simmers beneath every personal conflict.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  My only wish is that I had read it when it came out, so I could have enjoyed this sooner.  I look forward to Celeste Ng’s writing future (and yes, I have just preordered her new book) and everything she has to give us.

(Also, I must put in a final word to say that casual queer character with no overwhelming baggage made my heart sing.  This book was just everything.)

About Fleet Sparrow

Writer, Reader, Critic, Bear.
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