Interview with Celeste Ng about “Everything I Never Told You” (Pub’d on Hippo Reads)

Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (photo credit: Kevin Day Photography)
Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You (photo credit: Kevin Day Photography)

Hippo Reads just published my interview with Celeste Ng, author of the highly acclaimed novel Everything I Never Told You. This dark story centers on an AMWF family living in 1970s small town America grappling with an unimaginable tragedy, and it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year.

In particular, I loved the way that Celeste captured the true dynamics of discrimination in America in this book (incidentally, practically all the race-based discrimination she wrote about either happened to her or to someone she knew).

I’m excited to introduce you to Everything I Never Told You and Celeste Ng through this interview on Hippo Reads. Here’s a snippet explaining my own connection to the novel:

From interviewer Jocelyn Eikenburg: Everything I Never Told You touched me on a personal level. Naturally, I was drawn to the family at the heart of the story. I write about Asian interracial relationships and am married to a Chinese national, so it was refreshing to read a book featuring an Asian father and a white mother raising mixed-race children. More importantly, Everything I Never Told You perfectly captures the insidious nature of race-based discrimination in America and reminds us that Asian Americans are not in any way exempt (despite the pervasive “model minority” stereotype about Asians which I previously debunked on Hippo Reads). While Celeste Ng set her novel in the 1970s, my husband (who lived with me in the US for nearly eight years) also faced discrimination similar to what the novel’s father, James Lee, suffered in the story. When I was reading Everything I Never Told You, I felt as if the Lee family’s sorrows could easily have been my own. It was an incredibly cathartic experience.

Read the full interview at Hippo Reads to learn more about this fascinating novel. A big thanks to Kaitlin Solimine for suggesting this collaboration!

13 Replies to “Interview with Celeste Ng about “Everything I Never Told You” (Pub’d on Hippo Reads)”

  1. Everything I have told you before…also read Memoirs of a Hapa Girl by Maylee Chai….daughter of a AMWF couple living in Vermillion, SD during the early 1980s.

  2. Thanks for suggestion but I’m really not a fan of digital books, and only read them if I have to. Guess library it is, guess I also hoped to own it or something. For some odd reason I’m not a big fan of libraries as well.

  3. Here’s what I think. I do think that children of today inherit a lot from their parents teaching and education. Education is not only what you learn in school but it’s also what your dad and mom as a complete family also represents to you at home. You can learn and read “Love” from books, movies, media, but if you come from a divorced family, or your parents always arguing and fighting at home, you began to see “Love” and “Marriage” as horrible abstract as a black hole.

    For interracial relationships to materialize and be sustainable for subsequent generations, the onus falls on both partners in concern, be it Asian males and White females or vice versa.

    I will lay out my view on these relationships.


    –> White Men and Asian Women

    As long as both partners maintain their cultural traditions, children will grow healthy and proper. I will come back to that later.


    –> Asian Men and White Women

    Because of the existing stereotypes for Asian men (Some of them true, some of them starts to disappear), most of the time Asian men in this relationship tend to be outliers in the pool of Asian men. That is not to say Asian men in their Asian relationship are not worthy of mention. Since this is more relevant on IR relationship, I mainly focus on AMWF couples. I’m not here making a politically correct statement. To be more blunt, today society is mainly patriarchal. Yea, we’re moving towards more equality for all humans, bla bla bla, but the reality is Men still control the society. You keep reading the stories on wardrobe malfunction for all female celebrities, but not a single Men wardrobe malfunction to take a sneak peek at.

    The bottom line is the power struggle between Men and Women in relationship or marriage always has to be balanced. Add Asian and Western concept into the equation, things got more complex. For that matter, majority of AMWF seems to maintain balanced relationships whereas the opposite IR pairing tends to favor on White men side heavily, that sometimes wreak havoc unintentionally.

    Of the top of my head, here’re some of the celebrities who are doing quite well and seem they grew up in a healthy family of AMWF.

    1. Mike Shinoda
    You might not know his name, but if I mention “Linkin Park” you will realize he looks familiar to your childhood memories. He’s the rapper, and he has his own “Fort Minor – Remember the Name” which was even used as a soundtrack for NBA. And it seems quite strange that the song itself suited very well to “Jeremy Lin” rise in NBA.

    2. Jude Law
    His father is Chinese. The given last name is kind of similar to “Lo” in Chinese language, although I cannot say with 100% certainty. The same tactics of anglicizing Chinese last name when you were born in the US can also be seen in “Gary Locke”, former governor of Washington, and Ambassador to China.

    3. Keanu Reeves
    well…what can I say?

    4. Mike Sui
    A Chinese father and Western women, he’s the one who did the skit in youtube with different accents and it’s quite funny. ( And I believe he now lives in China.

    He also did cameo with Godfrey Gao in this TV series ( I recommend to watch this series.

    Now coming back to where I left off, for White men and Asian women, it appears that the power struggle tend to give favor to White men side heavily unless Asian women are the one who’s wearing the pants in the family. Otherwise, the power struggle will give a warped idea of male and female relationship to their children.

    Elliot Rodger (

    This is his manifesto (

    To keep my comment short, I’m not describing who is Elliot Rodger here.

    My point here is Celeste Ng rendition of AMWF is basically a FICTION. I’m not against her work of art. But bear in mind that this is FICTION. Of course she uses her own experience of racial discrimination in America, which adds more authenticity to the reading. Lydia, whose look resembles more Caucasian is favorite in her family. Nathan, who looks more Asian was described as “Shy, socially awkward boy” in the story. Remember this is the author’s imagination.

    Now I wanted to add that

    –> Elliot Rodger who was born from White man and Asian woman was said to be socially awkward, shy and always stay alone, writing his manifesto even before he shot himself, all verified by his acquaintances, encounters. This is REALITY.
    –> Mike Shinoda, Mike Sui who were born from Asian men and White women grew up fine, doing pretty good in their lives.

    Of course those are just a few samples of what we have. The bottom line is people are so used to hearing shy, awkward, nerdy Asians and it’s quite convenient to portray Asians in such stereotypes. But remember the Reality Vs the Fiction. So goes the Hollywood.

    1. Get the fact straight,ok. JUDE LAW is WHITE. Unless you’d think Robert E. Lee, Brigham Young, John Locke were Chinese too.

  4. Just finished the book. A heartbreaking, but beautiful story–hard to believe this is Ms. Ng’s first novel!
    As an Asian man with white American wife, with multiracial children, who will soon hit adolescence (and living in Ohio, to boot!), it was very difficult to read, too. I found myself empathizing with James’ concern for his children (Nath and Lydia) “fitting in,” stemming from his own experience of ostracism as a lone Asian-American boy in school (although I did not grow up in the US, for which, frankly, I am thankful). I also see how his own insecurity blinds him from connecting with those whom he loves most — wife and children — could happen to me, as well. I have taken a throwaway line from my wife (ex., that she is having difficulty finding a friend, that I am not good at fixing things at home) as a sign of her regret of not having a “normal” (read white American) husband and family, even though that is not what she meant.
    As gut-wrenching as the story is (especially for someone like me with a preteen daughter), I appreciated the author ended the book with a glimmer of light, that there might be a road ahead for the story’s characters to build a future together with what’s left for them.

  5. I finished the novel a week ago. It’s the kind of story that pulls you in and keeps you reading. I thought it was very well written. For a while, though, the characterization of James annoyed me because his attitude was so different from that of my Chinese husband. Eugene and I were married at about the same time as James and his wife, so in that sense, our experience was similar. But I had to remind myself that there were big differences between James and my husband, Eugene. James grew up in the US; Eugene grew up in China and Taiwan, and also in Japan, where he attended an international school. By the time he came to the US for college, he was already a confident young man. Also, we lived on the West Coast, a part of the United States that was more tolerant, even then.

    The story in Everything I Never Told You was tragic in many ways, but the novel was well worth reading.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nicki! I can totally understand your feelings about James (especially since he’s so different from your own husband). And given that you were married about the same time, the story has to feel more personal to you.

      BTW, if you ever wrote a memoir of your marriage and family w/ Eugene, I would read it in a heartbeat! 😉

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