Adult Fiction Books contemporary fiction Historical mystery

“Everything I Never Told You”: Celeste Ng explores the connection between happiness and fear

“I’ve had a bad day.” This is what we say when something happens that makes us feel like crap. An argument with the other half. Getting pulled up for being late for work. Spilling your drink on yourself. But when catastrophe really strikes, these are the things we wish for. We get annoyed that we actually thought that these small things were the worst thing that could happen to us.

Why, then, do we allow ourselves to think like this? Why is it we get bogged down by these things without really putting things into perspective and looking at the bigger picture?

Because every single day we take the good things in our life for granted.

Celeste Ng explores this notion in her heart-breaking story, Everything I Never Told You.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue – in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting.

When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest in the family – Hannah – who observes far more than anyone realises and who may be the only one who knows what really happened.


Everything I Never Told You is a gripping page turner from Ng about love, loss, life, race, grief and the secrets that weigh us down. It’s a hard story to read, because from the first page you know that Lydia is dead, and the majority of the rest of the novel goes back to figure out why, and how, that happened. The whole time you spend reading the past you can’t help but think, ‘You’re going to lose her. You’re going to lose her and you have no idea. You have no idea what’s coming’.

This, however, I felt is an accurate representation of life. We go through our day-to-day business taking for granted the people we have in our life without really thinking that one day we will lose them. How many times have we looked back after we lose someone we love and thought, ‘If I had known that was the last time I was going to hold you, I wouldn’t have let you go.’ How many times have we wished we told someone how we felt about them, took in every detail about them, had the chance to spend just one more moment with them?

We never think that the last time will be the last. We always think we’re going to have more time. So we keep our mouths shut, we don’t say how we feel because we believe wholeheartedly that there will be another opportunity to do so. But that’s how you end up with regrets – because you took it for granted. And all those things that go left unsaid burn a hole inside us and we’re left with nothing but a load of ‘what ifs’ and ‘could have beens’.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you—whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

But – and there’s always a but – we need to take things for granted. As we see through the character of Lydia. If we don’t, if for one second we let the thought in that everything we love and care about can slip right through our fingers, we would become paralysed with fear. How could you move from one moment to the next with the constant voice in our head reminding you of all things we stand to lose?

You couldn’t. We’d be too terrified of doing anything in case we step out of turn or do something wrong, that we would do as much as close our eyes and miss something, so that when we opened them that person or thing would be gone forever from our lives.

This is what happened to Lydia. She woke up one morning and her mother had disappeared, then she prayed and promised that she would do anything her mother wanted if she just came back. And when he mother did, she kept that promise. Terrified that one day she’d wake up and she’d be gone again.

“What made something precious? Losing it and finding it.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

So for the rest of her life Lydia wouldn’t know what it was like not to live in fear. And this, I think, was really the thing that killed her, long before she actually died. It sucked the life right out of her. Which is the real message I think Ng was trying to tell us: happiness is fragile, it can be broken at any given moment. But we can’t be scared to lose it. If we live our lives like that, then we will never be happy at all because we’ll be too busy being afraid.

“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You is another powerful story from Ng that gives us an extreme scenario to wake us up and make us realise a critical, fundamental foundation to being alive and being human. It’s not a story for the faint hearted, but also a story you don’t want to miss.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: