I'm an English teacher at Broadway High School . . . and an avid reader, of course!
For me, this was a one-sitting book, broken only by my need to sleep (for a few hours) and to eat (while juggling the book). I yearned, I cried, I ached along with the characters. Ng presents Lydia's parents, Marilyn and James, and her brother Nath as so human, so flawed, and so empathetic. I fell in love with each of them, yearning to help each character see past his or her blindspots, to prevent the tragedy that I already knew was approaching.
The novel is one of small moments. It feels so real because it reminds me of the way that life's tiniest misunderstandings can compound until they become part of one's identity. Though the story takes place in the 1970s, it feels contemporary in its treatment of an array of current topics, including racism and interracial marriages (James is Chinese American, and Marilyn is a blonde Southerner), academic pressures, faithfulness, feminism, single-parent families. Somehow, though, each of these issues is an organic part of the story, and at no point did I feel as if Ng had an agenda other than providing an honest account of this family's life and of this young girl's death. The novel moves seamlessly from character to character, diving into lives and consciousnesses and new understandings, providing glimpses into each character's understanding of the world. The book is one that ends too soon (I wanted so badly for the stories to continue!), and it's a quick read, which would appeal to teenage readers.
Though Everything I Never Told You is not a young adult novel, teenagers would find it relevant. Its characters are engaging--even (especially!) when they're making mistakes--and Lydia and Nath, in particular, are navigating their way through adolescence by facing the issues that all teenagers must confront. The book is both universal and incredibly particular, presenting specific lives in relatable ways (and its placement on the ALA Alex Award list, for books published for adults that may hold interest for teenagers, supports a recommendation for teenage readers).
Despite the tragedy at its center, Everything I Never Told You has triumphs, as well. It's a book of despair and of hope. It's the bright spots in the lives of these characters who I came to know that kept me engaged, wanting desperately for everything to work out in the end. Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You is, simply, beautiful.