* * *
From the beginning of Everything I Never Told You, we know that Lydia Lee is dead, but her family doesn’t, and it is awhile before we understand what happened. Lydia’s story has its roots in her family history.
In 1970’s small-town Ohio, the Lees are outsiders, the only mixed race family in town. James Lee is of Chinese heritage, a history professor at the local college. Marilyn Lee is white, a former Harvard medical student who gave up her dreams of becoming a doctor when she became pregnant with Nath, their son.
Once the police begin looking into Lydia’s disappearance, it soon becomes clear that she was leading a double life. Her parents believe her to be a popular girl and a good student with a brilliant future. But when police begin questioning her supposed friends after she is reported missing, the teens claim to hardly know her. She is close to failing some of her classes, and Nath is aware that she has been spending time with their neighbor, Jack, a boy with a bad reputation.
This novel is extremely sad, about the effect on young people of their parents’ insecurities and expectations, about misunderstandings and lack of communication, and about how an event in the family’s past affected Lydia’s behavior.
The novel is moving and well written, exploring the tensions between maintaining individuality and fitting in and the stresses caused by parents only wanting the best for their child. After being almost unremittingly sad for the entire novel, it ends on a more hopeful note, perhaps unrealistically.