Return home

The Penguin Press



Everything I Never Told You

New York Times Bestseller

A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


Book Trailer




“If we know this story, we haven’t seen it yet in American fiction, not until now… Ng has set two tasks in this novel’s doubled heart—to be exciting, and to tell a story bigger than whatever is behind the crime. She does both by turning the nest of familial resentments into at least four smaller, prickly mysteries full of secrets the family members won’t share… What emerges is a deep, heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history, and a young woman hoping to be the fulfillment of that struggle. This is, in the end, a novel about the burden of being the first of your kind—a burden you do not always survive.” —Alexander Chee, The New York Times Book Review

“Excellent…an accomplished debut… heart-wrenching…Ng deftly pulls together the strands of this complex, multigenerational novel. Everything I Never Told You is an engaging work that casts a powerful light on the secrets that have kept an American family together—and that finally end up tearing it apart.” Los Angeles Times

“Wonderfully moving…Emotionally precise…A beautifully crafted study of dysfunction and grief…[This book] will resonate with anyone who has ever had a family drama.” Boston Globe

“A subtle meditation on gender, race and the weight of one generation’s unfulfilled ambitions upon the shoulders—and in the heads—of the next… Ng deftly and convincingly illustrates the degree to which some miscommunications can never quite be rectified.” —San Francisco Chronicle 

“Cleverly crafted, emotionally perceptive… Ng sensitively dramatizes issues of gender and race that lie at the heart of the story… Ng’s themes of assimilation are themselves deftly interlaced into a taut tale of ever deepening and quickening suspense.” —O, The Oprah Magazine 

“Ng moves gracefully back and forth in time, into the aftermath of the tragedy as well as the distant past, and into the consciousness of each member of the family, creating a series of mysteries and revelations that lead back to the original question: what happened to Lydia?…Ng is masterful in her use of the omniscient narrator, achieving both a historical distance and visceral intimacy with each character’s struggles and failures…On the surface, Ng’s storylines are nothing new. There is a mysterious death, a family pulled apart by misunderstanding and grief, a struggle to fit into the norms of society, yet in the weaving of these threads she creates a work of ambitious complexity. In the end, this novel movingly portrays the burden of difference at a time when difference had no cultural value…Compelling.” Los Angeles Review of Books 

“Both a propulsive mystery and a profound examination of a mixed-race family, Ng’s explosive debut chronicles the plight of Marilyn and James Lee after their favored daughter is found dead in a lake.” Entertainment Weekly 

“The mysterious circumstances of 16-year-old Lydia Lee’s tragic death have her loved ones wondering how, exactly, she spent her free time. This ghostly debut novel calls to mind The Lovely Bones.” Marie Claire

“A powerhouse of a debut novel, a literary mystery crafted out of shimmering prose and precise, painful observation about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging… Ng’s novel grips readers from page one with the hope of unraveling the mystery behind Lydia’s deathand boy does it deliver, on every front.” —Huffington Post

“The first chapter of Celeste Ng’s debut novel is difficult—the oldest daughter in a family is dead—but what follows is a brilliantly written, surprisingly uplifting exploration of striving in the face of alienation and of the secrets we keep from others. This could be my favorite novel of the year.” —Chris Schluep, Parade

“The emotional core of Celeste Ng’s debut is what sets it apart. The different ways in which the Lee family handles Lydia’s death create internal friction, and most impressive is the way Ng handles racial politics. With a deft hand, she loads and unpacks the implications of being the only Chinese American family in a small town in Ohio.” —Kevin Nguyen, Grantland

“Beautiful and poignant…. deftly drawn….It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel for Celeste Ng. She tackles the themes of family dynamics, gender and racial stereotyping, and the weight of expectations, all with insight made more powerful through understatement. She has an exact, sophisticated touch with her prose. The sentences are straightforward. She evokes emotions through devastatingly detailed observations.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer

“Perceptive…a skillful and moving portrayal of a family in pain…It is to Ng’s credit that it is sometimes difficult for the reader to keep going; the pain and unhappiness is palpable. But it is true to the Lees, and Ng tells all.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Impressive… In its evocation of a time and place and society largely gone but hardly forgotten, Everything I Never Told You tells much that today’s reader should learn, ponder and appreciate.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Quiet and intense…A family drama that reveals its secrets slowly, drawing you in.” —The Missourian 

“Powerful…[A] beautifully crafted story of a family in pain, and the many reasons, personal and societal, that the Lees have lived most of their lives as strangers to one another. Making us care so deeply about her characters is Ng’s triumph.” —Dallas Morning News

“Deeply moving…masterful…[Ng] doesn’t give her characters any easy futures or her readers any false hope.” —Ann Arbor Observer

“With the skill of a veteran heart surgeon…Ng writes of maternal expectations, ingrained prejudice and sibling conflict in a culture that has just begun to grapple with interracial marriage and shifting gender roles.” MORE magazine

“[A] tender debut…The novel touches on the myriad paths grief may take, the secrets everyone keeps and how much a tragedy can affect relationships in a family.” Time Out New York

“When Lydia Lee, the favored daughter in a mixed-race family in ‘70s Ohio, turns up dead, the Lees’ delicate ecosystem is destroyed. Her parents’ marriage unravels, her brother is consumed by vengeance, and her sister—always an afterthought—hovers nervously, knowing more than anyone realizes. Ng skillfully gathers each thread of the tragedy, uncovering secrets and revealing poignant answers. Grade: A-.” —Sara Vilkomerson, Entertainment Weekly

“[A] moving tale… of daughters for whom cultural disconnect is but the first challenge.” —

“[A] haunting debut…Ng is a gifted storyteller but an even more gifted character-builder…A powerful book about how those left behind must learn to go on living.” —Bustle

“On the surface, this is about a mixed-race Asian-American family dealing with and trying to solve the mysterious death of their favorite teenaged daughter in ‘70s Ohio (this isn’t a spoiler, it happens in the first sentence). What it’s really about all the ways we can be an ‘other’—in society, in our own marriages, in our jobs, and to our parents or children. It’s also about pressure—the pressure to be with people who are like ourselves, and to fit in, and to be everything our parents want us to be. It’s about giving up your career to become a wife and mother, and what that means and doesn’t mean. It’s about dealing with prejudice. It’s about secrets and happiness and misery, and all the things we never tell the people we love. It’s about everything, is what I’m saying, and not a single word is wasted or superfluous.” —Amanda Nelson, Book Riot

“This emotionally involving debut novel explores themes of belonging using the story of the death of a teenage girl, Lydia, from a mixed-race family in 1970s Ohio…Lydia is remarkably imagined, her unhappy teenage life crafted without an ounce of cliché. Ng’s prose is precise and sensitive, her characters richly drawn.” Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Tantalizingly thrilling, Ng’s emotionally complex debut novel captures the tension between cultures and generations with the deft touch of a seasoned writer. Ng will be one to watch.” Booklist (starred)

“Ng constructs a mesmerizing narrative that shrinks enormous issues of race, prejudice, identity, and gender into the miniaturist dynamics of a single family. A breathtaking triumph, reminiscent of prophetic debuts by Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, and ­Chimamanda Adichie, whose first titles matured into spectacular, continuing literary legacies.” Library Journal (starred)

“Ng expertly explores and exposes the Lee family’s secrets… These long-hidden, quietly explosive truths, weighted by issues of race and gender, slowly bubble to the surface of Ng’s sensitive, absorbing novel and reverberate long after its final page. Ng’s emotionally complex debut novel sucks you in like a strong current and holds you fast until its final secrets surface.” Kirkus Reviews

“Ng tells a story weighted by death and grief that is vital in all the essential ways; these characters betray and love blindly and are needy and accuse and forgive. They are achingly human, and Ng’s writing about them is tender and merciless all at once. At the same time, her story is also about what it means to live in two worlds at the same time, to be Asian and American, an insider and an outsider, and Ng writes about all this and more with terrific nuance.” —Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones

“I couldn’t stop reading Everything I Never Told You . . . the writing is so smooth and keenly observed. The portrait of each member of the Lee family, the exploration of their mixed-race issues and the search for the killer of their sister and daughter, Lydia, pulled at my heartstrings to the very end.” —Uwem Akpan, author of Say You’re One of Them

Everything I Never Told You is a suspenseful and emotionally complex literary mystery novel, which, weaving back and forth in time, unlocks the secrets beneath the surface of family life. Celeste Ng has written a compellingly tense and moving first book.” Dan Chaon, author of Await Your Reply

“Celeste Ng leavens the bridge between the disappearance of a young girl, and the personal histories that precede it, with the larger canvas issues of race and gender, without straying from the riveting emotional territory that make up the cornerstones of family: what is given, what is withheld, and what can never be known. Lydia Lee is every parent’s dream, fear, and devastation, wholly loved, just as completely lost. It is impossible to resist grieving alongside each one of these bereft, deeply realized characters, for we live their lives, and their story becomes ours from the first paragraph of this marvelous book.” Ru Freeman, author of On Sal Mal Lane and A Disobedient Girl

Everything I Never Told You is a brilliant debut novel by Celeste Ng, which tells the seemingly-simple story of a half-Asian, half-Caucasian family living in Ohio in the 1970s. When the eldest daughter is discovered dead at the bottom of the lake, the family questions their every move, all the while wondering if it was a suicide or a murder or an accident. Through flashbacks, we discover that this family holds secrets, and as we witness the past through their various viewpoints, we eventually discover the tragic truth. Not only a great literary mystery, Everything I Never Told You is also a brilliant examination on life in a mixed race family in America and the tribulations people of race encounter on an everyday basis. Truly, a brilliant, un-put-downable debut!” —Bill Carl, Booksellers on Fountain Square

“Once upon a time there was a Chinese man (James) who married a Caucasian woman (Marilyn) moved to a small Ohio college town to live happily ever after. The only problem is that their children are anything but, and now their middle child, Lydia, on whom both of them had pinned all their hopes and dreams, is dead, drowned in the nearby lake. Marilyn put all her hopes and dreams of Lydia having the medical career she herself gave up. James hoped that with her blue eyes, she’d be the popular kid he never was, a lone Asian in a sea of White people. Their son Nathan suspects that Jack, the neighbor kid who spent time alone with Lydia in his car, is somehow connected. The pieces of the puzzle might lie in another fateful time, when Marilyn disappeared for several months. This delicately written, character-driven story is an interesting portrait of the seventies, when Chinese folks were still uncommon in the heartland, and the racial, as well as gender, prejudices took a toll on their victims. Heartbreaking, yes, but also hopeful.” —Daniel Goldin, Boswell Book Company

“What happens when a family constellation loses a star? Do the others fall out of orbit or pull closer together? When sixteen-year-old Lydia disappears, her Chinese-American father and American mother can barely speak to one another. Lydia’s brother and younger sister try to stay below the radar. Each of them knows something about Lydia’s lifethe pressure to be someone she’s not, to live the life in science that slipped through her mother’s grasp, to be popular, not an outsider like her father. And what does their wild neighbor Jack know about Lydiawas he really the last to see her? So many secrets, so many questionspersonal struggles, cultural struggles, and a tragic mystery to solve, this is a compulsively readable debut.” —Gail Vinett, Ingram Content Group

Everything I Never Told You is utterly captivating, a look at the fractures of family and identity under the pressure of devastating loss. It’s mysterious, thoughtful, starkly honest and almost brutal, using the knife of a crime to dissect and expose a suburban life…. [a] sort of a life-by-crime novel that uses the one to pry the lid off the other.” —Camden Avery, The Booksmith

“More than a simple portrait of love and loss, this is a beautiful and haunting story of a lost teenage girl attempting to discover her own voice.” Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA)

Author Q&A


Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackles of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes, sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of the closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

Marilyn closes her eyes. Maybe, when she opens them, Lydia will be there, covers pulled over her head as usual, wisps of hair trailing from beneath. A grumpy lump bundled under the bedspread that she’d somehow missed before. I was in the bathroom, Mom. I went downstairs for some water. I was lying right here all the time. Of course, when she looks, nothing has changed. The closed curtains glow like a blank television screen.

Downstairs, she stops in the doorway of the kitchen, a hand on each side of the frame. Her silence says everything. “I’ll check outside,” she says at last. “Maybe for some reason—” She keeps her gaze trained on the floor as she heads for the front door, as if Lydia’s footprints might be crushed into the hall runner.

Nath says to Hannah, “She was in her room last night. I heard her radio playing. At eleven thirty.” He stops, remembering that he had not said goodnight.

“Can you be kidnapped if you’re sixteen?” Hannah asks. Nath prods at his bowl with a spoon. Cornflakes wilt and sink into clouded milk.

Their mother steps back into the kitchen, and for one glorious fraction of a second Nath sighs with relief: there she is, Lydia, safe and sound. It happens sometimes—their faces are so alike you’d see one in the corner of your eye and mistake her for the other: the same elfish chin and high cheekbones and left-cheek dimple, the same thin-shouldered build. Only the hair color is different, Lydia’s ink-black instead of their mother’s honey-blond. He and Hannah take after their father—once a woman stopped the two of them in the grocery store and asked, “Chinese?” and when they said yes, not wanting to get into halves and wholes, she’d nodded sagely. “I knew it,” she said. “By the eyes.” She’d tugged the corner of each eye outward with a fingertip. But Lydia, defying genetics, somehow has her mother’s blue eyes, and they know this is one more reason she is their mother’s favorite. And their father’s, too.

Then Lydia raises one hand to her brow and becomes his mother again.

Sign me up for Serious Reads


A monthly newsletter featuring new and newsworthy nonfiction titles with exclusive excerpts and content from your favorite authors.

Serious Reads

Sign me up for Serious Reads, a monthly newsletter featuring new and newsworthy nonfiction titles with exclusive excerpts and content from your favorite authors.