review by Maryom
One morning in early May 1977, Lydia Lee doesn't show up for breakfast. Her bed hasn't been slept in, no one has seen her since the day before, and the family's worst fears are soon confirmed when her body is discovered in a lake. The police can find no evidence to suggest anything other than suicide. This isn't enough to convince her family. To them Lydia was a bright, happy high-achiever, studying hard for college entrance but with a wide circle of friends. What reasons would such a girl have to take her own life? Her mother Marilyn believes this tragedy must be the work of a perverted killer. Her brother Nathan thinks the boy down the street, Jack, knows more about Lydia's death than he's letting on. Hannah, the youngest child, always slightly ignored by the rest of her family, catches the others in unguarded moments and sees things they don't. Her father James, meanwhile, paralysed by shock and grief, turns outside the family for support and sympathy, a move which could tear them all apart.
Everything I Never Told isn't a crime novel as such; there's no frantic police search for a serial killer or last minute twist which uncovers a hidden psychopath. Rather, like another stunning debut Carys Bray's A Song for Issy Bradley, it's a portrayal of a family coping with tragedy; a tragedy that, as the Lees' family history is revealed, seems to have been almost inevitable.
Although outwardly an averagely happy, successful family, beneath the
surface the Lees had hit a point of being so dysfunctional that
something had to give somewhere. Moving forwards and backwards, through the aftermath of Lydia's death, and the events that led up to it, watching events unfold from the perspective of each member of the family, the author piece by piece reveals the secrets the family have hidden and the lies they've spun to each other. The threads lead back to the point when Marilyn, studying hard to break her mother's domestic mould and qualify as a doctor, meets and falls in love with lecturer James Lee, son of Chinese immigrants. James desires nothing more for him and his family than to fit in as average Americans; Marilyn is almost the opposite - she wants to challenge stereotypes and for her favourite daughter to achieve what she didn't. Both are blinkered though and do not see the reality of their children's lives.
The writing is understated and concise, the plot brilliantly constructed, pulling the reader in, and building gradually to the reveal of how Lydia died. For a début, it's a stunner, and I can't wait to read more by this author.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Little, Brown
Genre - adult fiction