The novel Everything I Never Told You is a must read. It is deeply thought-provoking, engulfing the reader in the Lee family’s world. Each character is a complex portrait of a person coming to terms with their past through the lens of grief. Ng is an exceptional writer, and the whole book emphasizes how the tiniest – seemingly insignificant – events in life are those that yield the biggest impact. This is especially true when battling issues on gender roles, discrimination, and the BIPOC community’s experiences.
The microaggressions or the subtle remarks and actions we hear play a significant role in how we internalize our identity. For instance, Doris’ cookbook, something Marylin grew up hearing her mom cite, reads that all wives should know their husband’s preferred style of egg. This is a subtle reference to traditional gender roles: the woman cooks to win her man’s heart, and that is one of her main roles. Marylin growing up with such old-fashioned beliefs led her to believe that all Chinese people in America speak with a heavy accent. Racist stereotypes are very prominent in her town, which only speaks to the problem of raising children under such an environment. Marylin realizes James does not have an accent and someone else yells “Yippee-ki-yay-ay!” only showcases this attitude.
Ng narrates the problems the Lee family faces; racism, sexism, and a continuous struggle to belong in a world that alienates them. They are the only mixed-race family in their small town, and the reader gets to learn not only about their collective struggle to belong, but also each individual member of the family’s experiences with prejudice.
I found it particularly interesting how traditional femininity and prejudice was progressively rejected throughout the three family generations. Doris tells Marylin that she might want to think of her future children because they “won’t fit in anywhere.” She outright says this with no hint of embarrassment; this is just how she regrettably thinks. Marylin first grows out of this mindset, feeling shame when she instinctively thought the doctor was a man and the lady treating her wound at the hospital, and she slowly starts to think progressively. She rejoices when Lydia hides the cookbook and tells her she lost it. Marylin thinks it is a sign that her daughter will reject traditional femininity. In short, Marylin is affected by sexism throughout the book, James by racism, and the kids by their parent’s history
This book is a must read for all of us, both members of the BIPOC community and non-members. We can all relate to some extent to the Lee family’s struggle. We can all educate ourselves more and learn from the character’s experiences.
Written by: Monica Alfaro
Book Club Assistant