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Everything I Never Told You

Popularity 1Viewed 2899 times 2017-2-25 09:27 |Personal category:reading|System category:Life| parenting

Everything I Never Told You


This is a book written by Celeste Ng.


"Lydia is dead." The whole book starts with this suspicious fact. It's the very first sentence but it has already laid the base of the whole story. It's like I accidentally stumble into the end of the book. Knowing this, I desperately want to find out what has happened to her that leads to her seemingly doomed end of life.


Lydia grows up in a middle-class family whose mother Marilyn is a housewife and father James a college professor. Her father James is an American born Chinese whose parents migrate to the United States through a very tricky process. Thanks to an opportunity, his parents get jobs at a famous elite high school. James is allowed to receive education there for free if he is able to pass a rather difficult placement test. He makes it almost effortlessly.  Bright as he is, James has always been very self-abased because he is the only student in his high school that isn't white. He struggles a lot to blend in and still fails. He partly blames this to his own parents. So while on campus, he attempts to avoid the encounter with them as much as he can.


Holding onto the expectation that university life will be rather different, he survives the high school with a miserable social life but an outstanding academic performance. Yet, it doesn't get any better. He is still an outsider even in a supposedly liberal university. He believes the most fundamental reason why he fails to fit in is that he is not equipped with a basic understanding of American culture. Due to this, he chooses the quintessential embodiment of American culture-cowboy. He even ends up being a professor in this field in a college.  He almost winds up working for Harvard, but almost. He concludes the failure is due to his color. This later becomes a thorn in his deep heart throbbing now and then.


When James is teaching American cowboy, he meets his wife Marilyn who is a student in his class. Marilyn is ambitious as well as strong-willed. Her mother teaches home economics in her high school. Marilyn's mother takes house management a serious career. She believes a housewife should be able to cook delicious food and attend every issue be it big or trivial in the house. She hopes Marilyn will be able to meet a lot of Harvard men and marry one of them. But, that's not what Marilyn wants for her life. Rather than the home economic stuff her Mather wants her to master, Marilyn is determined to be a doctor.


For many years, she strives for that goal. But the moment she falls in love with James, she walks off the road she specifically designed for her future. She believes she will be able to walk back one day as easy as she once walks away. But after getting married, she soon has two children. She then is virtually home-bound to take care of her family and to make sure everything is in order. When one day she gets back to her mother's place to sort out her belongings after the death of her mother, it suddenly dawns on her that there isn't much left for her to remember her mother except for a cookbook. Marilyn decides this is not the way she wants to be remembered. The idea of becoming a doctor resurfaces in her mind. She pretends nothing is changed. But she starts secretly plotting an escape from all these family trivialities to build her great career.


One day, she just walks away without leaving notice. The only goodbye letter she writes beforehand is torn into pieces. Because of this, the whole family falls into a brittle and weird status. Everybody blames himself or herself for not being good enough for Marilyn. James thinks Marilyn deep down still wants a white man while Lydia and her brother believe they are not well-behaved enough. This lasts for around three months before Marilyn gives up studying medicine and comes back home because of her pregnancy. When Marilyn realizes she will never work up enough courage to walk away again, she decides to pin all the hope of being a doctor on her daughter Lydia. During Marilyn's absence, Lydia promises that as long as her mother comes back, she will do whatever her mother asks her to do. So she does whatever to please her mother. Lydia says "yes" to every of her mother's requests most of which are related to studying math, physics, preparation work for her to become a doctor. Lydia's father always has this haunting image of being an outsider and doesn't want her to suffer from this. So he often encourages Lydia to socialize and to blend in. Apparently, this goes against what Marilyn wants her to do since both requests consume multitudes of time, Lydia is constantly torn.


In this strange family, Lydia gets almost all the attention from both her parents. Marilyn herself wants to be a female doctor. So it seems reasonable for her to pass that ambition to her daughter. James finds their son socially-handicapped. Looking at her son invariably reminds him of what a failure he once is in school. So he shifts most of his attention to Lydia as well. Showering by love and care is not only smoldering but worse even suffocating to Lydia. But she can't and don't dare to break away from this as she is worried that Marilyn will abandon her once again. Lydia's brother receives a little love and attention. The stark contrast between how he is treated and how Lydia is treated renders him agony. One day, he and Lydia go to play by the lake. He is flooded with anger with his parents and everything and accidentally knocks Lydia into the lake. Lydia doesn't know how to swim and almost wants to let everything go and end it just there. Panicked, her brother dives in and saves her. Since then, Lydia believes her brother will always be her saver because he is the only person who understands what she is going through.


Time drags on, but things don't pick up in the family. Lydia fails subjects at school and struggle to keep up with her study. Her brother gets an offer from Harvard and can't wait to set himself free and to start anew. Lydia panics this time. She feels trapped and feels the stress on her shoulder too heavy. One night, she sits there trying to figure out since when it starts to go wrong. She realizes it's when her brother rescues her by the lake. Her brother has long been her spiritual pillar to keep going. With his leaving, she doesn't know who she can rely on. But she suddenly decides that it's time for her to be independent and right everything. She thinks she should right the first thing that leads to the current situation. So she walks out of the house at midnight and determines to learn swimming in the lake. She reckons it will be a good start of living her own life. So she jumps and never comes out again.


PS: personally, I believe she does that on purpose. In actuality, she just wants to end this.


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (2 comments)

Reply Report shehemego 2017-2-27 23:03
I feel very shocked by the ending. I am presuming that she may learn to be independent and finally get successful. Yet, the stories always go on the other way.
Reply Report Min1989 2017-2-28 11:39
shehemego: I feel very shocked by the ending. I am presuming that she may learn to be independent and finally get successful. Yet, the stories always go on the o ...
I found the book very depressing when I was reading it. Real life is seldom like a comedy.

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  • The Purpose of Reading 2018-4-12 13:45

    we have the same feeling about. reading,reading. really tells us a lot especially when welearn foreign can help us to understand other. country's culture and customs.therefore,when we talk. in foreign languages.we. needn't worry about. making too. much also can enrich our life.let's enjoy reding

  • Why don't We Stand Out and Fight? 2018-4-4 14:14

    It is actually emotionally and mentally healthy to have nursing homes for old people in residential areas, and makes it easy for families to visit their elderly relations regularly.
    Death happens to everyone and it is stupid to hide it away. Death is not bad luck - it will happen to you and me.
    In some European countries there are homes for the elderly next to kindergartens, and everyone benefits from interacting with each other on a daily basis.
    The elderly benefit from interacting with children and keeps them mentally alert, whereas the young learn about death as a normal part of life.

    For a country that supposedly 'respects' their elders, China has a very superstitious attitude to death and dying.
    where i am from, the elderly are allowed and supported by family and state) to be independent and in their own homes.
    Where medical treatment is needed, residential homes allow the elderly appropriate facilities in towns and cities while their families can visit easily and local residents can interact with them.
    In addition, local communities benefit from being able to interact with these residents and the residents can still be part of a local community, not hidden away as something to be ashamed of or 'taboo'.

    Shame on China for such medieval superstitious attitudes regarding death.
    Does China 'respect' the elderly so much that they should be hidden away from people's lives?

    Do you want to be isolated and hidden away when you are old and your family don't want to or can't visit you?

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