Family Secrets and Narrative Structure in Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You


Celeste Ng’s novel Everything I Never Told You (2014) has been said to combine some stock ingredients of literary thrillers with other less customary features that complicate its classification in that genre. Although we learn from page one that the protagonist of the novel, sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee, is dead, discovering who is behind the possible murder of this Chinese American girl proves to be one of the lesser mysteries in the story. While the reader remains intrigued by the forces/people that may have driven Lydia to her demise, other enigmas—related to the other members of the Lee family—keep cropping up and turn out to be closely linked to the protagonist’s fate. This article explores the secret-saturated structure of the novel, which moves back and forth between the Lees’ speculations about Lydia’s death, the impact that the event has on their lives and the protagonist’s own version of the story. Ng delves deep into the issues of gender, race and other types of otherness that spawn most of the secrets driving the story. Assisted by theories expounded by Frank Kermode, Derek Attridge and other scholars, the article highlights the centrality of family secrets as a structuring principle in Ng’s novel.

Author Biography

Aitor Ibarrola-Armendariz, Universidad de Deusto
Aitor Ibarrola-Armendariz is Professor of US studies at the University of Deusto, Bilbao, where he teaches courses in ethnic relations, academic writing and film adaptation. He has published articles and edited books on minority and immigrant narratives, the pedagogy of literature and cinema, and discrimination and social exclusion. He was the Director of the Erasmus MA program on International Migrations and Social Cohesion (2010-2015).


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