NEA Big Read
Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You

by Celeste Ng

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.


Celeste Ng (Kevin Day Photography)

  1. How would you describe the sibling relationships in this story? How do Nath, Lydia, and Hannah both understand and mystify one another?
  2. Why do you think Lydia is the favorite child of James and Marilyn? How does this pressure affect Lydia, and what kind of impact do you think it has on Nath and Hannah? Do you think life is more difficult for Lydia as the favorite, or for Nath and Hannah, who are often overlooked by their parents?
  3. How do Marilyn and her mother view the act of cooking, having a career, having a husband, and their roles as stay-at-home mothers? Do you think one is happier or more satisfied in life than the other? How might you view Marilyn's actions and attitudes differently if the story took place in the present rather than in 1977? Are women who want both children and careers happier and more satisfied today?
  4. Why has James struggled his whole life with his identity as a Chinese-American man? What obstacles has he faced in his quest for self-acceptance and how have they affected his relationship with his family? How might he have coped with them differently? Discuss a situation in which you felt like an outsider, or in which you were faced with an outsider's misperceptions, and how you coped with it.
  5. Is life easier today for biracial couples and families and career-seekers in the kinds of environments James and Marilyn inhabited at home and at work?
  6. Are the dreams and ambitions of the various characters realistic? If not, why not? If they are, why are they so often thwarted?
  7. As the title suggests, there's so much that the characters keep to themselves. What could each of them have done or shared with one another over time that might have changed the outcome of the book?
  8. What role does Jack play in the story? How might the story have unfolded differently, particularly concerning Nath and Lydia, if they had known his secret?
  9. This novel says a great deal about the influence our parents can have on us. Do you think the same issues will affect the next generation of Lees? How did your parents influence your childhood? If you are a parent, how do you think you're influencing your children?
  10. The story is told through shifts in time periods and points of view. How does this affect the way you view the events as they unfold?
  11. The footprint on the ceiling brings Nath and Lydia closer when they are young, and later, Hannah and James discover it together and laugh. What other objects bring the characters closer together or drive them further apart?
  12. What would have happened if Lydia had reached the dock? Do you think she would have been able to change her parents' views and expectations of her?

Source material for Everything I Never Told You discussion questions provided courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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