Everything I never told you is a well-crafted, well-told story, but I found it profoundly depressing. The book opens with the line “Lydia is dead” and for the next 280 pages, we read all the circumstances and events that happened in the sixteen years of her brief life. We also read about the background events that took place before her birth, the assumption being that all these events contributed in some way to her tragic death. Collectively, this paints a picture of a dysfunctional family, grappling with issues of belonging, self-worth and empathy. The final 20 pages provide some hope that the remaining members of her family eventually come to terms with her death and can move on with their lives.

Lydia was the daughter of Marilyn and James Lee who are both Americans but James was born to Chinese parents. Their mixed ethnic background was the source of many problems. The focus of the book is on this one family and there is little in the book to provide any relief from the intense scrutiny of this family’s problems.

Nevertheless, it’s well-written and I did enjoy the way the author, Celeste Ng, often circled back and explained how behaviour patterns had developed. However, there were a couple of things in the story that didn’t ring true for me, most notably why Lydia lived by a lake and couldn’t swim, even though her siblings and her father were strong swimmers. The excuse given was lame.

While the book has received many accolades for its literary style, it was sad it contained so little hope for those struggling with the issues this book raises.

Overall a melancholy read.