Everything I Never Told You
Everything I Never Told You is the fiction novel, written by Celeste Ng in 2014 and awarded the Amazon Book of the Year. The book attracts attention to many significant social problems that commonly remain undiscussed and unrevealed in media. Particularly, it reveals the topics of the relations between parents and children, teenagers and their peers, society and emigrants, as well as personal and professional ego. The book is written in a comprehensive and easy way, appealing to a big audience. Everything I Never Told You is a kind of a notorious conclusion, derived from numerous misunderstandings and uncertainties that are typical for the American society. From this point of view, the novel provides a valuable insight into the actual problems of ordinary families and warns about their seriousness and threats.
At the very beginning of the book, the readers learn about the death of Lydia, the middle child in the family of Marilyn and James. In the early morning, the family has breakfast together, children prepare to go to school, and the parents hurry to their workplaces. Everything seems quiet, despite the absence of Lydia. However, nobody in the family suspects anything strange or unusual, deciding that Lydia is still sleeping or finishing her morning toilet. There are first struck by anxiety comes the discovery of her absence in the entire house. The atmosphere immediately changes, and the family finishes eating and leaves the house in total silence. Interestingly, the author describes all the subtleties and details of the morning breakfast. The readers can see all the intonations, movements, moods, and thoughts of the main characters. For instance, “Nath stirs his cereal, which has turned to sludge at the bottom of his bowl. The clock in the front hall ticks, then strikes seven thirty. No one moves” (Ng 4). Such vivid descriptions make the plot of the book more dynamic and lively. Moreover, they strongly add the expressiveness to the depicted events.
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Right after discovering the absence of Lydia, Marilyn calls the college to check whether her child is in class. Waiting for the answer makes Marilyn recollect events from Lydia’s early childhood. Suddenly, she realizes that she has not paid enough attention to her daughter and cannot remember many significant steps in her life. For example, she has no idea when and how Lydia started to stand on her feet and walk around. Only some glimpses of the past events remind her of Lydia as a small child. “Marilyn took the kettle off the stove and turned to find Lydia standing in the doorway… The thought that flashed through her mind wasn’t How did I miss it? but What else have you been hiding?” (Ng 5). Probably, the recollections of the past reveal the key to the current absence of Lydia and events that have forced her to disappear.
The secretary at school answers that Lydia did not come to the first class and asks whether Marilyn can explain the absence of her daughter. This is the very moment when Marilyn realizes the seriousness of the situation. She remembers hearing thousands of times about the kidnapping of teenagers and children who are, escaping from their homes. All the previous cases have gained significant attention and alertness in the city. However, she would never think that this problem could become the one of her family. Marilyn recollects the advice of the police officer: “If your child is missing, look for him right away. Check washing machines and clothes dryers, automobile trunks, toolsheds, any places he might have crawled to hide. Call police immediately if your child cannot be found” (Ng 6). She has never thought about the importance of such recommendations, but she unconsciously starts to check all the places inside and outside the house, hoping to find any steps or signs of her child. Marilyn checks even the most absurd places in the house, though she would never believe she would be involved in such kind of a problem.
After thorough searches and numerous efforts, Marilyn decides to call her husband and inform him about the tragedy. James Lee is the professor of the American history at the local university. He started his career a long time ago as a graduate student. He was invited to have some lectures as a trial after which he was accepted for the permanent work. James takes his job quite responsibly, though he does not see any enthusiasm and positive feedback from his students. The quality of their papers becomes lower, their grades tend to decrease, and the mistakes in the essays become more and more absurd. “A line of smugly typing teeters slightly uphill: Serbia was one of the most powerful of the Baltic nation. He crosses out Baltic, writes Balkan, turns the page” (Ng 9). Nevertheless, James continues performing his working tasks patiently and devotedly.
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The call from the wife makes James anxious and worried. The news about the absence of Lydia strongly shocks him, as he would never think such occasion could happen to their daughter. Lydia seemed to be an open-minded girl with many friends and hobbies. James tries to remember the last years of his daughter’s life and cannot recollect anything suspicious or unusual. For example, on Sundays, Lydia used to go to the cinema with her girlfriends. However, only now James realizes that “he had never seen a ticket stub, that for as long as he can remember” (Ng 20). Now, James starts doubting whether Lydia has spent all the Sunday afternoons studying at school, walking around with her friends or, maybe, doing anything else.
The police officers come into the house and thoroughly investigate Lydia’s room. They try to calm down the anxious parents, telling them that the majority of children and teenagers tends to return home within the twenty-four hours. Such an explanation does not satisfy Marilyn and James, as they understand that the majority does not mean 100% of cases. Nevertheless, the police officers assure them that everything will end happily and they will inform them as soon as they have any information.
Meanwhile, Marilyn and James start calling the friends and schoolmates of Lydia, who could know any information about her plans. The parents are sure that Lydia has many friends, with whom she likes to spend time and share her secrets. However, as soon as Marilyn and James start calling them, they lose their initial enthusiasm and realize there is no one who can really help in their situation. “When they’ve called the last number, James puts the telephone down. He takes the slip of paper from Marilyn and crosses out Karen Adler, bisecting the K into two neat Vs” (Ng 19). It sounds strange but Marilyn and James start discovering many new facts about their daughter only after her disappearance. However, nobody took care of her when she was present.
Nath, another child of Marilyn and James, recollects seeing Lydia with Jack, the neighbor boy. He knows for sure that Lydia does not have many friends at school and prefers sitting alone to chatting with others. Many times, he could see her going alone to the bus, sitting solitary near the window, and putting down some notes in her notebook while others were actively chatting and talking. Nath also knows that Lydia did not spend her afternoons studying at school or meeting with friends, as she was walking around with Jack. However, now, Nath does not feel confident enough to inform his parents about these facts. Neither does he speak about her solitude and lack of real friends. “Nath does not correct them, but these girls have never been Lydia’s friends” (Ng 16). Nevertheless, telling the truth now would mean the revelation of the most hidden secrets and events of Lydia’s life. Thus, he decides to keep it secret and just observe the development of the events.
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Some days later, Marilyn and James receive the call from the police, asking whether Lydia likes to swim. The question surprises both of them, as Marilyn and James know for sure that their daughter refuses to take any swimming lessons and avoids this activity in all possible ways. “She was already five when he took her to the pool for the first time and waded into the shallow end, water barely to his waist, and waited. Lydia would not even come near the water” (Ng 25). Therefore, Marilyn and James are sure that Lydia would not agree on swimming anyway. Just later, they realize the point of the question, as there is a lake in the city. A few days later, they receive another news from the police. “It’s not until early Thursday morning, just after dawn, that the police drag the lake and find her” (Ng 25).
This news makes both Marilyn and James rethink their lives and recollect the most intimate and personal flashbacks from their past. Marilyn used to study physics and chemistry at the university, though everybody suggested her taking the course of English or history as the most appropriate subjects for girls. Nevertheless, she had a strong intention to become a doctor and demonstrated excellent achievements in her studies. She met James when she took her course in history. It was first James’ class, and it did not end successfully. The vast majority of students left during the lecture, showing their direct contempt for the subject and the professor. The thing is that James Lee was the Chinese immigrant, arriving with his family in America with the false name. In fact, it was a typical story of thousands of Chinese immigrants who did not find a warm welcome from the American state. “While the Irish and the Germans and the Swedes crowded onto steamship decks, waving as the pale green torch of the Statue of Liberty came into view, the coolies had to find other means to reach the land where all men were created equal” (Ng 41). “While the Norwegians and the Italians and the Russian Jews ferried from Ellis Island to Manhattan, fanning out by road and railway to Kansas and Nebraska and Minnesota, the Chinese who bluffed their way to California mostly stayed put” (Ng 42). Therefore, the readers understand numerous difficulties of the immigrants’ lives and troubles that they encounter in the new place.
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Marilyn approached James after the first lesson. The passion between them and the mutual connection was spontaneous, immediate, and unpredicted. James used to live with the permanent fear of losing his girlfriend because of the questions of nationality. Marilyn continuously had to fight back the arguments of her relatives regarding the unequal marriage and the necessity to choose a more conventional way of living.
Such flashbacks help readers to realize that different social implications and stereotypes can lead to real tragedies and serious consequences. Largely, they are not discussed in public, though they influence thousands of citizens permanently. From this point of view, this book presents an overview of prominent social problems and warns the public about them.