“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” And with that first line of Pushcart Prize recipient Celeste Ng’s haunting debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, you know you’re in for the long haul, if for no other reason than to find out how and why. But as you begin to uncover the secrets and pains and misdirected motivations of each member of the mixed-race Lee family trying to fit in in 1970s Ohio, you realize it’s more the redemption of the living that you yearn for: from the patriarch James who can’t seem to escape the outsider status his Chinese face brands on him; to his wife Marilyn, obsessed with an unfulfilled dream and her failure to break out of her own mother’s homemaker mold; to son Nathan, a living reminder to his father, despite his academic successes, of his own social ineptitudes. But perhaps most heartbreaking is the youngest, Hannah, whose very conception lays the groundwork for a dysfunctional dynamic that would culminate in tragedy. Ng writes:
What about Hannah? They set up her nursery in the bedroom in the attic, where things that were not wanted were kept, and even when she got older, now and then each of them would forget, fleetingly, that she existed — as when Marilyn, laying four plates for dinner one night, did not realize her omission until Hannah reached the table. Hannah, as if she understood her place in the cosmos, grew from quiet infant to watchful child: a child fond of nooks and corners, who curled up in closets, behind sofas, under dangling tablecloths, staying out of sight as well as out of mind, to ensure the terrain of the family did not change.
Details Hardcover, $26.96, penguin.com.
— STORY BY ANNA M. PARK
This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here.