Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Review of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You

Do you remember what I said about Book #4 of Alina Sayre's series The Voyages of the Legend?  To refresh your memory, I said I was sad to write the review because it meant that the series was over.  Well, today I am, again, a little sad about writing a review.  This time, unfortunately, it's for the wrong reason.  As you know, I just purchased Celeste Ng's 2nd book, Little Fires Everywhere, last week at the Penguin Random House event in Lafayette.  And, so far, it's the most popular book in my TBR pile, according to your votes.  That prompted me to read her 1st book, Everything I Never Told You.  I have to say I was pretty disappointed.  I had 4 problems with the book.  But I will get to that in a minute.  First, le blurb:

"Lydia is dead.  But they don't know this yet."  So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.  Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue.  But when Lydia's body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.  A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

I don't want to give you the impression that I didn't like it.  I did...somewhat.  But not nearly as much as I hoped to.  Initially I thought that maybe my expectations were too high.  But then I realized that I have started many books with high expectations and have seen those fulfilled, or even exceeded.  So I don't think that's it.  Without further ado, here are the problems I had:

1.  I made almost no emotional connection with any of the characters. People, that is almost unheard of.  I have seen the same preview for an upcoming movie called Wonder (based on the book) that makes me cry every time.  I have even been accused (unfairly, I say...or is it?) of tearing up at a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode!  But in EINTY, I had one time late in the book where I got a little chill and a tiny amount of emotion. That was it!
2.  The book was a bit tedious for me.  It's only 292 pages, and I was able to get through it pretty quickly (4 days).  But it still dragged.  I was about half-way through when I started thinking about my next book (either Sourdough, by Robin Sloan, or Before the Rain Falls, by Camille Di Maio).  That should NOT be happening.
3.  We know in the very 1st sentence that Lydia is dead.  So, as you might expect, there is a lot of past-to-present-to-past-to... going on.  And I don't feel it flowed that well.  I mean not everything can be done as artfully as NBC's This Is Us.
4.  This one was probably the roughest for me.  And it's not really fair. But we all know that there is nothing more subjective than opinions about books.  What is it, you ask?  The author overuses similes, IMHO.  It got to be so frequent that they actually jumped off the page and smacked me.  Here's one example:  "It was sedate and docile, like a middle-aged mare.  It buzzed gently, like a watchful chaperone..."  The other issue I had was that the similes themselves didn't really resonate with me.  They seemed very mundane and not all that visual.  A number of years ago, I read a book by Christopher Reich, an author that at the time I liked a lot.  However, he used "Just then" so often that it greatly affected my enjoyment of the book.  In fact, I even wrote to tell him.  He thanked me (but I don't think he really meant it).  P.S.  His next book greatly reduced the "Just then"s.  Was I that powerful?  Not likely.

Let me wrap this up with a couple of observations:
1.  The ratings for EINTY are 3.78/5 (Goodreads) and 3.94/5 (Amazon). Obviously a lot of people really liked it.  I would understand if you not only disagree with me but even rise up in mob form and try to get me dis-reviewer-ed.
2.  The book is only a 2.75/4.  But I'm not sorry I read it.  I can definitely see how others would like it  more than I did.  AND it's not going to prevent me from putting her 2nd book high on my TBR list, subject to the final vote.
3.  There is a reference to The Jackie Gleason Show (remember that the book takes place in the 70s).  That reminded me of The Honeymooners, which I actually watched (I'm very old).  And that reminded me of a trivia question I had last week on my website:  Who is the only original cast member that is still alive?  It's Joyce Randolph, 93, who played Art Carney's wife (okay, that was random, even for me).

Let the verbal backlash begin!


  1. I'm smiling that you wrote to Christopher Reich about his "just thens" :)
    One of the members of the group she said she liked this one better because it was darker, but I have no idea. I hope when you get to Little Fires you like it better.

  2. I think it's a fair and honest review. Thanks for the insight.

  3. I liked this more than you did but less than most people. The ending was a let down to me.