Although starting off with Lydia being dead and seeming like a mystery, Everything I Never Told You is first and foremost a family drama, a novel that tells the story of a mixed family living in 1970s America. James, the father, is Chinese and has struggled with his identify his entire life, facing prejudice and racism. Marilyn, the mother, has been raised by a mother who believed her end goal should be to get married and have children; however all Marilyn wanted was to be educated, to become a doctor.
This, despite their best efforts, this has not happened. James was never really accepted in society, even his mother in law has not accepted or approved of their marriage, while Marilyn never got her medical degree, but instead married James and had 3 children. Feeling like failures, they hoped and wanted to make sure things would be different for their children.
Lydia, being the favourite child, was the one who suffered most from her parents forcing their expectations onto their children. Her mother wanted her to become independent, educated, a doctor and forced her to take subjects in school she wasn’t interested in. Her father wanted her to be popular. With this, Lydia lived her life wanting to please her parents and therefore lived a lie. Pretending to be interested in psychics and living with anxiety whenever she failed her subjects, to having to lie to her father about friendships she never had.
While pushing their children to become what they never could, they ignored the signs that Lydia simply wasn’t doing well, that she wasn’t happy. Nathan, the brother, had to deal with the same, but it’s the youngest daughter, Hannah, who picked up Lydia’s strange behavior first. Now Lydia is dead, her body found in a lake and the family is trying to figure out who did this to her. Was she murdered or was it suicide?
Everything I never told you explores the past and present of the Lee family. We get to read each character of the Lee family’s story: their challenges, fears, identity issues, regrets and disappointments. It’s not an easy story to read. It brings up so much sadness that what has happened to Lydia could have been avoided, if the family dynamic were different. If more attention was paid to the children’s emotional needs instead of having to live up to expectations. In some parts, the novel even made me angry.
The novel has had so much hype around it, that I took my time before I picked it up, despite having bought it quite a few months before. I’m going to be honest: it didn’t live up to my expectations. However, it’s definitely worth a read. It could be a cautionary tale.