She’s been practicing this for three weeks now, toying with the lock whenever her mother wasn’t looking. Now Hannah oozes her body around the door and steps barefoot onto the lawn, where Lydia must have been on her last night alive. Overhead, the moon hovers behind tree branches, and the yard and the walkway and the other houses slowly appear out of the grainy dark. This is what her sister would have seen that night: glints of moonlight reflected in Mrs. Allen’s windowpanes, the mailboxes all leaning slightly away. The faint glimmer of the streetlamp on the corner, where the main road loops around the lake.
–From Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You
You know how you can sense a depressed person in a room? How the melancholy sinks into your bones by osmosis? Or when you go to a party and come home and there is cigarette smoke in your hair and in the fabric of your coat and it lingers like a bad mood? Or what people mean when they say, “It’s straight out of an Edward Hopper painting”? This novel penetrates you and leaves you aching with loneliness.
Celeste Ng picks at her characters’ emotional heaviness as if it were a favorite scab that won’t heal. But she does it so gracefully and in such depth (there are so many layers of sadness!) and in such detail, that the combination doesn’t drag you down–it’s often bracing.
The question from the beginning is: “Who killed Lydia Lee?” Adolescence is a prison for Lydia, who pretends she is on the phone with her “friends” to please her Chinese-American father who so desperately wants her to fit in the small Ohio town where they live. For her mother, whose efforts to become a doctor have been thwarted, Lydia must make believe she is an exceptional science student.
The real question of the book is “Who is Lydia?” The end of the book touches on this, and it opens the heart while it sharpens the mind.