Book Review: Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know whether being mixed race, of white and Asian descent, is having a moment, but with little design, the last three novels I’ve read have all featured mixed race protagonists. I don’t even know if mixed race is the right term anymore. Mom, from Hawaii, would use the Hawaiian word, Hapa, which meant ‘half’. I certainly remember a period of time, after university (in the early 90s), when there was an academic flirtation with ‘hybridity’ and ‘cyborgs’, combining man and machine, or man and science, or any two large concepts.

Things You Never Told Me is certainly the quietest of the three novels I’ve read, a family story, a family in the mid-West of the USA, where the main character is viewed more from the perspective of others than speaking for herself, the mixed-race daughter (with one brother and one sister) of a troubled couple.

The book seems to have gotten rave reviews. I liked it well-enough but perhaps my familiarity with the casual and not-so-casual racism that is one of the book’s main themes dulled the book’s overall punch. Similarly, while I should have been excited about her rendering of a family unable to communicate with each other, which reminded me so much of Asian-American families I know, I instead had a wave of sadness for all that is lost, with so much unspoken.

In any case, it’s a quiet book, well-constructed to draw you into its central mystery and with characters with a common humanity but who will likely be a bit unfamilar to most readers.

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