Celeste Ng discusses her debut novel in this author interview. Discover the Celeste Ng books in order & her writing process for “Everything I Never Told You.”
Let’s dive into the behind-the-scenes story of Everything I Never Told You with an exclusive interview with the author.
Everything I Never Told You Book Synopsis
Everything I Never Told You is a beautiful character-driven debut novel set in 1970s Ohio.
When a family’s daughter goes missing, the lives of her family members begin unravel through Ng’s beautiful storytelling.
From the inception of the parents’ relationship to the intricate dynamics of every family member, including the missing Lydia, this novel presents a profound exploration of untold stories.
Within its pages lie the unspoken narratives of each character – the parents’ feelings of disappointment, the challenges of belonging due to racial differences, and the burdens of fulfilling expected roles within the family, regardless of their desires.
This novel is an excellent choice for book club discussions, as it delves into significant themes like parental roles and expectations, the heartache of youth, and the struggles of fitting in.
However, it’s essential to clarify that this work leans more towards being character-driven story rather than a conventional mystery or thriller.
It is such an honor to have Celeste Ng join me today. in this special interview
Guide to the Celeste Ng Books and Exclusive Author Interview
You open with the death of Lydia in the very opening sentences of the book and then build the story from there. Why did you decide to start with her tragic death and then work your way out in the story?
In earlier drafts, the book began quite differently: “At first, they don’t know where Lydia has gone.”
And neither did the reader until about thirty or forty pages in.
What I realized, eventually, was that this pointed the reader in the wrong direction. It prompted the reader to focus on whether Lydia was alive or dead rather than on what happened within the family to lead to her death.
So in the last draft of the novel, I changed the opening and put Lydia’s fate right up front. Once you know that Lydia is dead, that information colors everything you read afterward.
Race plays a big part in this novel. I was embarrassingly unaware of racial discrimination among Asians in the 70s, particularly in the disapproval of the relationship between the white mother (Marilyn) & the Asian father (James) in the Lee family.
Was this something that you had heard about, researched, or have you experienced this discrimination firsthand?
Unfortunately, discrimination among Asians isn’t just limited to the 1970s.
It still happens today, both overtly and in what we might now call microaggressions: small actions, often not intended as malicious, that remind people of their otherness.
With one exception, every moment of racism or racial tension in the novel is something that I or someone I know personally has experienced firsthand.
And these moments aren’t rare: every person of color I’ve spoken with has experienced something similar, no matter where they live.
How did you react when you learned that your debut novel was chosen as the Book of the Year on Amazon in 2014?
And now, do you face greater expectations to produce a follow-up that matches the same level of greatness in your next book?
Here’s how I found out about the Amazon pick: I was sitting in my living room drinking tea and playing with my son when someone tweeted “Congratulations!” at me.
I actually had to tweet back, “On what?!” So the whole experience has been surreal, and I’m very grateful to Amazon’s editorial team for championing the book.
I do feel some pressure to deliver another book that will live up to the response for this first one—how could I not?
But honestly, the expectations have an upside as well.
Writing is such an uncertain job; you work for years on a single project and hope that when it’s done, someone will read it.
Having so many people read and respond to the book makes me more optimistic that people will want to read the next one, too.
The title of your book, Everything I Never Told You, is the anthem of every character in this book, as they all have their own secrets and struggles that they can’t seem to share with others.
Was there anything you have never shared with someone that you wished you would have, and what message do you hope your readers will walk away with from reading this book?
My father passed away unexpectedly over a decade ago, and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye properly.
(None of us did.)
I think about that a lot, about what I’d have said if we’d had another chance to talk.
And even now, I often think of things that I’d like to share with him—not important things necessarily, just jokes he’d have enjoyed or observations he’d have gotten a kick out of.
More than the Big Important Topics, those kinds of small things are the glue that holds a relationship together.
I guess I hope that readers will close the book thinking about how life is short—and precious—and will make a conscious choice to never take the time they have with loved ones for granted.
As a mom, I really struggled with Marilyn leaving her family behind in this book because she felt she did not get to pursue her own dreams.
I admit, I was pretty angry with her as this family hobbled along in her absence. I think being a mom does mean sometimes we have to put our dreams on hold in order to make our family lives work.
Did you sympathize with Marilyn? Have you ever had to put anything on hold in your own life because of your family?
It’s totally okay to be angry with Marilyn! (She makes some questionable choices, as do all the other characters.)
But you’re right, being a mom, you’re in a constant juggling act trying to balance the needs of your family and your own needs.
This is true for any parent, of course, but in today’s world, it’s especially true for mothers.
As a working mom myself, I end up putting my family before my own wants a lot of the time—as do most parents, I think.
Sometimes these are small things: maybe I’d rather have chicken one night, but I cook spaghetti because that is what my kid will eat.
Sometimes they’re larger: for example, I’d love to go on a writing retreat, like the ones at McDowell (where someone brings you your lunch every day while you work!).
But that would be a huge strain on my family, so it’s off the table, at least for a while.
And in fact, I’d miss them too much if I were away for so long.
That’s the thing that makes it hardest: you’re not just choosing between something you want and something they want; you’re choosing between something you want and something they want that you want too.
Your desires get all mixed up with your family’s and it becomes hard to even tell what you yourself want. So yes, I have a lot of sympathy for Marilyn.
What can we expect from you in your next book?
The next book is still very much in draft form, so I won’t say too much about it yet—I’m still working out the details!
But it takes place in my hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio. It focuses on a family living there and a mother-daughter pair (with some secrets in their past) who move in from out of town and the ways those two families get entangled and stir up trouble for one another.
Editor’s Update: Can you guess what book this is? It’s Little Fires Everywhere!
If you could tell anyone to read one book right now (other than your own) what would that book be? (read all the recommendations from authors HERE)
That’s a very hard choice to make.
I’d go with The Bluest Eye, because Toni Morrison is one of my all-time favorite authors and that book says so much about race and culture, identity and love, and it’s beautifully written.
New to Celeste Ng? Here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions!
How To Pronounce Celeste Ng
If you don’t know how to pronounce her name- check out her X handle.
What are the best Celeste Ng books?
My favorite books by Celeste Ng are Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.
Her highest-rated novel on GoodReads is her second book, Little Fires Everywhere.
What Celeste Ng Movies Are Coming Out?
Two of Celeste Ng’s books have been optioned for the tv screen, but no films yet.
Little Fires Everywhere became a Hulu series and Everything I Never Told You series is currently in development.
We have provided more information in the book list below.
Is it necessary to read Celeste Ng’s books in a specific order?
No, each book is a standalone story.
What are the Celeste books in the order published?
Everything I Never Told You (2014)
Little Fires Everywhere (2017)
Six Shorts 2017 (2017)
Our Missing Hearts (2022)
Fourteen Days: An Unauthorized Gathering (2024)
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