everything i never told you & little fires everywhere – celeste ng | reviews

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Standalone
Published June 26th 2014 by Penguin Press
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery, Historical Fiction
Representation: Mental Health, Asian-American characters

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

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.


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This whole family is dysfunctional as fuck before and after Lydia’s death. I can never know what any of the characters were thinking or feeling about or doing outside their home life. Marilyn definitely didn’t know that much about Lydia as she thought she did.

It took the death of a loved one for this family to realize what was happening in their home. Extremely tragic and upsetting. I loved the way Celeste Ng developed the bigger picture. She added pieces of the mystery here and there showing what drove the Chinese-American family apart and each character’s internal thoughts in a particular situation. The words they wished they didn’t say, the things they planned to do but never gotten to, the regrets they had but didn’t do anything to rectify it, and the love they want to show but couldn’t properly portray.

The whole situation saddened me. The family never stopped to listen or communicated. Marilyn hoped to be different since the day she decided she will pursue a career in a male-dominated industry while James desired to fit in because, for all of his life, he never could. Those two wishes spiraled down to Lydia even though they have two other children.

“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you—whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”

Lydia was the one who took the burden of fulfilling her mother’s dream of being a doctor although she doesn’t want to, and her father wants her to be surrounded by friends but she just couldn’t. It’s devastating because no child should suffer such extreme expectations. Lydia was miserable.

Felt bad for Hannah throughout the whole book. Sweet Hannah was neglected because the focus was on Lydia. The younger sister learned to fade into the background where she observed and listened.

Lydia’s crippling fear of disappointing her parents rang true. Even though I never experienced the same level of pressure as Lydia did, the self-inflicted desire to make her parents proud hit close to home. Everything I Never Told You showed a very fragile family crumbling under past regrets, traumas, and expectations.

What a raw and sorrowful book. Celeste Ng’s writing style brought everything to life. Couldn’t help but feel emotionally drained after reading Everything I Never Told You but would not change a thing either.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


Standalone
Published September 12th 2017 by Penguin Press
Age Range: Adult
Genre: Literary Fiction
Representation: Asian-American characters

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons.

Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost…


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trigger and content warnings:

Celeste Ng went above and beyond explaining and describing the neighborhood and its characteristics. Initially, I was a little puzzled about who the main character was since Celeste Ng introduced all the players in the first chapter. She gave the big picture and then dived into how the various characters were connected.

Each person has their distinctive traits and personality. Moody was a little self-conscious and not confident about himself as compared to his older brother, Trip. Lexi can be stuck up and ignorant at times while Izzy feels isolated from this big family and is mostly misjudged by their parents.

As for the mother-daughter duo, Mia is a single mom who seemed detached but is compassionate and sensitive to the people around her. Pearl is finally getting a chance of normalcy since her mother promised that Shaker Heights would be where they settle down for good. Due to the constant moving, Pearl never had a long-lasting friend, and the only permanent person in her life is Mia.

I liked how the book portrayed parental love from Mia’s point of view in contrast to Mrs. Richardson’s. Brought up differently, both mothers developed different ways of showing love to their children. Mrs. Richardson expects perfection not just of her kids but also, of herself and her entire life in general. She liked regime and standardization. Things were always organized and stuck to her schedule. At times, she can be snobbish, entitled, and stuck up. Despite that, she did provide a balance of thoughts which is something that Celeste Ng does throughout the entire book showing the contrasting opinions each individual has. Thus, adding a layer of personality and complexity to all the characters made them relatable and interesting people to read about.

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”

Although Mia appeared aloof, it’s obvious that she loves Pearl. After knowing her situation and how she became a single mom, I couldn’t help but really feel for her. She showed a huge amount of empathy, understanding, and love for Pearl, and to the people around her daughter like Lexi and Izzy. She takes them in without hesitation and doesn’t question them when they encountered difficulties.

With her astuteness, Mia could make the reclusive Izzy explain why she was acting the way she was, and she offered patience and compassion to Lexie. I liked that I got to know Mia’s thoughts on pearl getting older, and her worries about Pearl leaving the nest. Her insecurities and silent reluctance about Pearl not being as clingy to her contradicted her happiness that Pearl is independently building her own life.

Similar to her other book, Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng wrote about Chinese immigrants’ situation in the US at that time. She does a fantastic job of fleshing out the bad side of society and the existing prejudice, discrimination, and racisms happening towards the Chinese. There was thoughtlessness and ignorance, shown through a legal case in the book, that still lingers in our current reality.

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