Everything I Never Told You

AuthorCeleste Ng
FinishedOctober 03, 2019
Rating3.8 / 5

Goodreads link

Very lovely book. Since I read this right after Little Fires Everywhere, I immediately sensed that this book was earlier and that Ng's style was not as matured. There were a couple plot points that did not make as much sense and some weird stylistic things (maybe complexity felt a bit strained?) However in general I enjoyed the story a lot. So many feelings. So many secrets.

The way she portrayed being different as a woman in science (and wanting to be different) and as a marginalized Asian in a white community (really trying to fit in) was amazing and I could relate to both very well.

Dysfunctional Family

This family is so dysfunctional. Everyone keeps their own thoughts and secrets and insecurities and dreams and regrets holed up in their head (thus, the the title I suppose). It gets a bit frustrating at times (because it seems that NO ONE in the family is aligned on any goals or insecurities at all) but it also felt realistic and in many ways, relatable. Communication is hard, especially with the people you love, and especially when there are many other factors involved (such as race marginalization, personal insecurities, family dynamics)

  • Nath reminds James a lot at his own age, and that is why James is so mean to Nath
  • When Lydia dies, it is almost as if James' and Marilyn's separate dreams died ... More so than their daughter dying, who was already souped up in loneliness and so disconnected from her parents, it was their parents' dreams that they had attached to their daughter. For Marilyn, her dream of her vicariously being a doctor through her daughter died; for James, his dream of finally fitting in through his daughter died.
    • "she absorbed her parents' dreams" (160)
    • "how hard it would be to inherit their parents' dreams" (273)
  • Marilyn running away felt clunky. I am pretty sure James would have let her go to school...
  • "Dreaming of his future, he no longer heard all the things she did not say" (164)
  • Everyone just making up what is in each others' heads. James' and Marilyn's gifts to Lydia are what they themselves want. James gives her How to win friends and influence people. Marilyn gives her science books that she ends up reading anyway.
    • No one listens, except to their own narratives


  • "Lydia has never really had friends, but their parents have never known" (16)
  • "Because more than anything, her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father had wanted to blend in" (25) - the crux of the problem of this book
  • "Alone, he could pretend to be just another student. He could pretend that, in the uniform, he looked just like everyone else. (44)
  • at the funeral - "like Lydia, no real friends... Most of the faces in the chairs are strangers. Why are they even here" (59)
  • "She thought with sharp and painful pity of her mother, who had planned on a golden, vanilla-scented life but ended up alone, trapped like a fly in this small and sad and empty house, this small and sad and empty life, her daughter gone, no trace of herself left except these pencil-marked dreams. Was she sad? She was angry. Furious at the smallness of her mother's life." (83)
  • "A family with no friends" (112)
  • Such good imagery that was so relatable - "Sometimes you almost forgot: that you didn't look like everyone else... You saw it when waitresses and policemen and bus drivers spoke slowly to you, in simple words, as if you might not understand. You saw it in photos, yours the only black head of hair in the scene, as if you'd been cut out and pasted in. You thought: Wait, what is she doing there? And then you remembered that she was you." (193)


  • "the lives of all those paper sons were fragile and easily torn. Everyone's name was false." (41)
    • "that evening, each brought home a navy-blue uniform stitched with a new English name. Henry. Wendy." (42)


  • "as if Lydia's footprints might be crushed into the hall runner" (2)
  • "creamy as lemon chiffon" (7)
  • "skin the color of tea, of fall leaves toasted by the sun" (35)
  • "they all looked alike, the same blend of sandy hair and ruddy skin she'd seen all through high school, all her life - as familiar as boiled potatoes" (37)
    • SAME - all the white dudes look the SAME
  • "they would lie together, dozing and dreaming, until six o'clock" (39)
  • "land of the giants" (47)
  • "thicket of adults"
  • "What a job, clearing the homes of the dead, piling whole lives into garbage bings and lugging them to the curb" (81)
  • "how good the rain would feel, like crying all over her body" (85)
  • "what happened to bodies in the water? Did they dissolve, like tablets?" (120)
  • "the days grew sticky and thick, like syrup" (135)
  • "there was her old life, soft and warm and smothering, pulling her into its lap" (144)
  • "it was too big to talk about, what had happened" (155)
  • "plugging her ears by filling her head with dreams" (251)
  • "This is what infinity looks like" (257)