Not Just A Family Tragedy | Teen Ink

Not Just A Family Tragedy

September 15, 2019
By eyang BRONZE, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
eyang BRONZE, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is a novel about a mixed-race Chinese-American family and the secrets behind the death of the middle daughter Lydia who is found drowned in a lake.  In her work, Ng uses her masterful and compelling writing skills to illustrate a complex story between family, community, and race, and she also leaves readers with the revelation that expectations could be destructive to one and even be fatal.


Though many factors may be attributed to the reasons leading to Lydia’s death, her parents are the root cause. Growing up as the only Asian-American in his area, Lydia’s father James has always hoped to be “ordinary” like everybody else in the white community. This idea stuck with him from childhood all the way to adulthood. He, therefore, expects Lydia to “fit in” and to be socially successful among her peers, despite the fact that Lydia actually suffers from isolation and loneliness.


Lydia’s mother Marilyn, on the other hand,always dreamed of achieving something out of the “ordinary.” However, she had to abandon her medical school plans and academic and professional success for her family. She turns this unfinished dream into expectations for Lydia, whom she conceives can turn this dream into reality.  As the novel unfolds, Lydia turns into a blank screen on which her parents have projected their own thwarted hopes. In the end, she is no longer able to live her own life but rather on her parents’ expectations and pressures. Though Lydia’s death is confirmed to be suicide in the book, it is more reasonable to say that all these external factors mounted inside her and ultimately pushed her off the edge to death. She was killed by her parents’ selfish and unrealistic expectations, which have passed through the generations and formed an unbreakable barrier between parents and children.


In all, Everything I Never Told You is an enjoyable book with deep meanings. The tragic ending of Lydia and the whole family suggests that expectations could be harmful when it brings much more pressure than motivation to one’s life. This is significant since it presents readers, such as myself, with applicable reflections upon issues such as family education in real life situations. Though my parents are not as extreme as Lydia’s parents are, I still find deep resonance with the characters in the novel, both from the parents’ and children’s side. As a teenage Asian, I feel great empathy for Lydia and the whole situation she suffers from. I understand the dilemma she experiences, where she has to decide between struggling for her own life and living a life that satisfies her parents. On the other hand, given the cultural context and social background of the whole story, it is also understandable that parents are likely to want their kids to carry on their unfinished dreams; the parents have already chosen the wrong path and hope to steer their children upon better ones. It is difficult to judge which side should completely be blamed, for it is not simply just a story about family issues. The problems this single story reveals have accumulated over two generations and are too complicated to resolve within a short period of time. Nonetheless, this book can still serve as a warning and reference for those parents and children who are struggling with similar affairs.  



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