Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng Sparkles Celestially ;)

Everything I Never Told You is a novel by woman of color, writer of color, Celeste Ng, that discusses the limitations of race and gender in the 70’s, but is sadly still relevant today. Although the character whom this book is centered around dies in the beginning (not a spoiler), it is evident that Lydia wants to do everything her mother ever told her… but what about everything Marilyn never told her, and vice versa?

Marilyn has had to make a painful choice between “right” and “wrong,” career (passion) and family (duty). Men often get to choose if they want to be fathers, but women still don’t get to choose whether they want to be mothers. Marilyn and James have three children – Lydia, Nath, and Hannah. Lydia is blue-eyed and light skinned, making her the favorite. She’s the one who is expected to go far, and make something of herself that her mother never could. Nath is an aspiring astronaut, but his parents often neglect his feelings and thoughts to set their attention on Lydia – who desperately does not want the attention. Poor Hanna is lost in the shuffle, but will she be found?

 

There are mother-daughter, mother-son, father-son, father-daughter, and mother-father/husband-wife, motifs to explore and more, not to mention the relationships between siblings.

 

Ng writes evocatively and completely understands show, don’t tell. She doesn’t say people are/were racist. She doesn’t say why Marilyn and James are constantly fighting the urge to let their kids grow, and try to change them and mold them. The reader has all of the context clues. I was born in 1990, long after the events of this novel take place, but through Ng’s writing I was able to acutely understand the culture and timeframe. My mother is a white woman, married to my stepfather who is a Chinese man. Together, they have my youngest sister. The subtle and not so subtle racism in this novel was on point. Towards the end of the story, I was a puddle. I cannot explain enough how perfectly Ng gets the family dynamic, the racial dynamic, and the time period, let alone how wonderful the pacing of the novel was. it never got boring, or too much too soon. I will definitely be picking up another Celeste Ng novel in my future.

 

Enjoy some quotes:

 

P137

 

“If her mother ever came home and told her to finish her milk, she thought, the page wavering to a blur, she would finish her milk. She would brush her teeth without being asked and stop crying when the doctor gave her shots. She would go to sleep the second her mother turned out the light. She would never get sick again. She would do everything her mother ever told her. Everything her mother wanted”

 

p 143

 

“As the young woman closed the gash with neat black stitches, Marilyn’s hands began to ache. She clenched her teeth, but the ache spread into her wrists, up to her shoulders, down her spine. It wasn’t the surgery. It was the disappointment: tha lie everyone else, she heard doctor and still thought – would forever think – man. The rims of her eyes started to burn… Marilyn blurted out, “I think I’m pregnant,” and burst into tears.

Fifth Grade Teacher Sparks Imagination to Last a Lifetime

“I got these rocks from the beach over the summer. I want you to each come up and take the rock that calls to you. Then, we will decorate them.” I looked around Mrs. Wirth’s fifth grade classroom. An easel stood in front of the blackboard. There was a large pad of white paper, which hung on the easel, and on the paper there was a drawing of a crescent moon with a Shel Silverstein quote written neatly and deliberately next to it. A clothesline hung from wall to wall. The bucket of rocks was in front of the room, on the floor, waiting for us to make our choices.

When it’s my turn, I go up to the front of the classroom and pick through the bucket. I come up with an oval shaped rock, glittering silver and black, and take it back to my desk.

“Decorate them however you like for the next twenty minutes, and then we’ll talk.”

I write my name, ‘e r i n,’ on the rock, my markers cut up from the grainy surface. I draw a rainbow around my name, and I place it on my desk, awaiting further instruction.

“These will be our paperweights.”

“Let’s all decide on a career. Pick any career you’d like to have, and that will be a major focus for you this year.” I knew right away what I wanted, staring at my Lisa Frank folder with smiling dolphins looking back at me. A marine biologist. Every morning we had to write in our career journals, a special project that would take the whole year. I took my new vocation very seriously, diligently writing each morning about my life as a marine biologist, studying dolphins and turtles, handing in my reports on time, always.

That year we made travel brochures. I chose the Belize and focused on the wildlife.

We read poetry by Silverstein, and wrote our own. Mrs. Wirth read us chapters from House on Mango Street, and assigned us to write memoirs in class.

I didn’t sleep much that year. I was up late with poems and ideas swirling around in my head. One night, a persistent poem would not stop replaying in my mind until I wrote it down, sneaking in the darkness of my bedroom so my mother would not hear me and know I was awake.

When will my dreams,

Come up from the depth of their valley,

And soar into reality,

To penetrate into the truth?

When I went to school the next day, I showed it to Mrs. Wirth. “This is beautiful! I’m going to hang it up on the wall with our Founding Fathers projects. Is that okay?”

I affirmed.

Later that week was Parent’s day.

“Did you see the poem I wrote, mom?”

“You wrote that? I thought it was a quote from a book you read.”

Mrs. Wirth nurtured my writing. When I wrote a short story for an assignment, she worked with me on structure and hooking the audience. “What if we started the story in the middle of the action?” Whether I was interested in writing mystery, adventure, or about my “career” as a marine biologist, Mrs. Wirth and her hand drawn Shel Silverstein posters were cheering me on.

Before and after Mrs. Wirth, I was blessed with great, kind teachers. But without a doubt, I would not be the reader and writer I am today without her. Without her feeding my mind with poetry, memoir, writing tips, and the freedom to be who I wanted to be –whether a marine biologist or a writer, I would have given up two years later when my English teacher was failing me. I would have given up on college when I had a disastrous first semester.

Mrs. Wirth gave me the confidence to succeed. Years later, I was with a friend, and mentioned my class. “I had Mrs. Wirth too, the year after you! She became the principal of the high school, you know.” I didn’t . I had moved during the summer after her class, to a new district, my career notebook, Belize flyer, and other work lost in the shuffle of a move and parents who were loving, but not sentimental about school assignments, or their kids’ aspirations.

Thank you, Mrs. Wirth. You live up to your name.

the end as i know it

for six years i have eagerly anticipated tuesday evenings on the on season. every tuesday night at 8 pm on abc family (now freeform) brought me the best part of my week, pretty little liars. and now the magic is coming to an end…

when i was about 19 and unemployed for the first time since i started working, i was in a really low place. my parents were divorcing, i had just come home from being in a really bad dorming situation at school, feeling like a failure who couldn’t handle college, and i really needed to get away from it all.

my grandmother’s apartment was my refuge. she lived in a three family house in queens, new york, that had been in my family for over a century. i spent many weeks there, living out of my backpack and her generosity, of which i cannot thank her enough, and i owe her more than the world for.

in that backpack was a set of four books i had bought at target with some of the little money i had left… sara shepard’s pretty little liars series. i devoured them. one a day. i had to get more. i think there are about 16-18 books in the series. after i ate up the first four, i went back out and got all that was available. they were dark, funny, mysterious, and a little scary. who was this night stalker? how did they know everyone’s secrets?

when i found out there was going to be a show, i bugged out in a good way. now i could see my beloved characters come to life (in the books, spencer and hanna were my favorites; i wasn’t crazy about emily or aria).

every tuesday rain or shine, work or not, school or not, i was watching my show. i laughed, cried, and felt every emotion in between. i rooted for spoby (until season 3!!!! now i am anti-spoby), worked out my feelings for ezria (uh… illegal/gross, romanticized… i like them now that they are both adults but also recognize the psychology still at play), and fell in love with haleb (uh caleb… you’re losing my trust rapidly!). i could go on for hours about theories, plot holes, and my feelings, both rational and irr-. but i will just say…

this show has been a friend to me when i had no one, when i had nothing, and when i was an unsure teenager. this show has continued to be a friend to me when i have gained and lost things and people. these girls are my friends. their story is my story. the metaphors for growing up and feeling under the public eye are all true.

today, pretty little liars enters its seventh and final season and it is the most bittersweet feeling i’ve had in a long while.

 

thank you sara shepard and marlene king.

reading schedule for the rest of the summer

June:

  1. The Catcher in the Rye – Salinger – reread – in anticipation of Pretty Little Liars season 7
  2. Bad Feminist – Gay – new read
  3. Everything I Never Told You – Ng – new read
  4. Radio Silence – Oseman – new read

    July

  5. Carry On – Rainbow Rowell – book club read for Forever Young Adult Book Club
  6. Quidditch Through the Ages – reread
  7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets- reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  10. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – reread – in anticipation of the Fantastic Beasts movie
  11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  12. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  14. The Tales of Beedle the Bard – reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – reread – in anticipation of The Cursed Child
  16. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!!!!!!!!

    August

  17. Simon vs. the HomoSapiens Agenda – Albertalli – FYA book club
  18. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – new read
  19. Jane Eyre – Bronte – New Read
  20. The Nest- D’Aprix Sweeney – new read
  21. Wide Sargosso Sea – Rhys – new read
  22. The House on Mango Street – reread – research
  23. Jazz – Toni Morrison – reread of the first half, new read of the second – research
  24. The Bell Jar – Plath – reread – research
  25. The Virgin Suicides – reread – research
  26. M Train – Smith

    September

  27. Every Breath – Marney – FYA book club
  28. Smashed – Zailckas – reread – research
  29. Fury – Zailckas – reread – research
  30. Throne of Glass – Maas
  31. Illuminae – Kauffman – FYA book club

Gatsby, what Gatsby?

Like many American students, I first read The Great Gatsby when I was in tenth grade. I hated it… but I had a crush on my teacher and decided that her enthusiasm wasn’t for naught. The day we took the test on the book and handed it back in, I went to the library and took out another copy, this time to pay full attention to.

 

When I reread it I was astonished by the beautiful language. Often Fitzgerald employs simple methods like alliteration, but it seems profound on the page because the story Is so compelling and the words are a writer’s dreamsicle.

 

It is a story that changes with age. Now I can see, Daisy wasn’t such a fool, herself. She was a modern girl, just as conniving as her husband, and a terrible mother who probably wasn’t really interested in being a mother in the first place, but society forced it’s hand. In the 1910’s, that’s what you did. You married for security, you had babies. Daisy is, to use Fitzgerald’s words, an angry diamond. There are layers to her frivolity. I have read this novel about six times now, and it has changed form every time.

 

I first read this book before my feminist awakening. Looking back, I was always an intersectional feminist, but didn’t have the words or the personal education to understand this about myself. In recent readings, I have been aware of Fitzgerald’s plagiarism of Zelda Sayre, his wife. I have been aware of the lack of characters of color (although there are theories that Gatsby is black). I have been aware of the women as side characters to further the plot (principally Jordan and Myrtle). Yet I have also become aware of Nick Carraway’s bisexuality.

 

After partying with Tom, Myrtle, Catherine, and a photographer and his wife, drinking alcohol for the second time in his life, Nick comes to on the photog’s bed. The artist is sitting in his underwear wrapped in a sheet, a post-sex viewing of his pictures is underway. I always felt, too, that Nick had a little bit of a crush on James Gatz, the titular great one who we all come to know little by little, yet not at all, with each silent rereading.

 

And then there are the lies. Tom says that Daisy is catholic (she isn’t) and thereby does not believe in divorce. Jordan Baker is described by our narrator as “incurably dishonest” (58). But the biggest lie of all is told by the presumably most honest person, Mr. Carraway (154). He says he never approved of Gatsby… yet he did. He approved of him, believed in his swirly twirly mix of lies and half-truths. He arranged meetings for and with Gatsby. He watched him at night from the darkness of his own porch, and became consumed with him.