Everything I Never Told You | Study Guide

Celeste Ng

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Everything I Never Told You Study Guide." Course Hero. 16 Aug. 2019. Web. 26 Oct. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everything-I-Never-Told-You/>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2019, August 16). Everything I Never Told You Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everything-I-Never-Told-You/

In text

(Course Hero, 2019)



Course Hero. "Everything I Never Told You Study Guide." August 16, 2019. Accessed October 26, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everything-I-Never-Told-You/.


Course Hero, "Everything I Never Told You Study Guide," August 16, 2019, accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Everything-I-Never-Told-You/.

Everything I Never Told You | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Disappearance

In the fictional town of Middlewood, Ohio, in the 1970s, the Lee family awakens to find their middle child, 16-year-old Lydia, is missing. The reader knows from the first sentence that Lydia is dead. Lydia's parents worry immediately because it would be completely out of character for Lydia to leave without permission. They call the police and file a missing person's report. James, Lydia's father, compiles a list of Lydia's friends to question, but Lydia's brother, Nath, silently thinks that none of the girls on the list are actually Lydia's friends. He suspects his schoolmate and neighbor, Jack, might somehow be involved. Readers learn that the Lee family has many secrets from one another as the police search for Lydia and eventually discover her body in a lake.

Family Expectations

Readers learn through flashbacks that both James and Marilyn Lee grew up with extreme expectations from their parents, which influence the way they raise their own children. James grew up as the poor son of Chinese immigrants. He sat for a test at the prestigious school where his father worked as the janitor and was able to secure a superior education. Despite his academic success, however, James felt like an outsider and obsessed over the idea of fitting in. He studied American history and married one of his students, Marilyn, because she blended so perfectly into a crowd. He fixated on the idea of his children fitting in, pressuring them—Lydia especially—to be like everyone else. He doesn't realize the weight of expectation this places on his children.

Marilyn's pressures on Lydia are also a byproduct of her own upbringing. As the only child of a single mother, all familial hopes were placed on Marilyn. Her mother, a home economics teacher, raised Marilyn to follow traditional, conservative gender roles. She wanted nothing more for Marilyn than for her to be the perfect housewife. She was devastated when Marilyn married James, an Asian American, and never spoke to her daughter after her wedding day. Marilyn longed to become a doctor, but the pressures of home life made that dream impossible. After leaving her family for nine weeks in a desperate bid to finish her degree, Marilyn returned home defeated. She put all her energy into harnessing Lydia's potential and raising her to be the doctor Marilyn herself never could be.

The Knot Unravels

After Lydia's funeral the family threatens to fracture completely. No one speaks. Hannah and Nath spend their time alone. With both James and Marilyn Lee focusing all their energy on Lydia's success, both Nath and Hannah flew under the radar, often feeling isolated and abandoned by their parents. They, too, were drawn to Lydia's bright star and feel the loss of her presence excruciatingly. Overwhelmed with guilt about abandoning Lydia to go to college, Nath obsesses over finding out how Jack, his childhood nemesis, might have been involved in Lydia's death.

Both James and Marilyn must come to terms with the heartbreaking expectations they placed on Lydia, and they must figure out who they are outside of being Lydia's parents. Marilyn struggles to understand Lydia's death. She doesn't accept the idea that Lydia was unhappy or would be capable of harming herself. She believes Lydia was lured to the lake and killed. Marilyn passes days searching through Lydia's bedroom for answers. James starts having an affair with his research assistant, Louisa. Eventually Nath grows suspicious and tells his mother about the affair. Marilyn and James have an epic fight, and James leaves.

Coming Back Together

The reader learns that Lydia did, in fact, die as a result of her own actions. Seeking a rebirth, or baptism, in the lake after a series of failures, Lydia mistakenly thought if she simply tried hard enough she would be able to swim back to shore. James returns home and, for the first time in a long time, reaches out to his family. He comforts Hannah and reconnects with Marilyn. Although few words are spoken, James and his wife seem to understand that they have forgiven each other and can move on. Nath finally confronts Jack at the lake and demands to know about his relationship with Lydia. Jack tells Nath the truth—nothing happened between them—but Nath still punches Jack in the face. He thinks it would feel good to punch his enemy, but it only makes him feel lonelier. Hannah pushes Nath in the lake to stop the fight, and Nath decides he'll take Jack's extended hand as he emerges from the water. Something shifts in the relationships between the three characters, and they leave the lakeside feeling as if they have been scrubbed clean.

Everything I Never Told You Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Marilyn and James defy their parents' expectations.

Rising Action

2 Marilyn gives up her career to raise her children.

3 Marilyn abandons her family but eventually returns.

4 Lydia struggles to live up to her mother's expectations.

5 Lydia befriends Jack to anger Nath.

6 Lydia fails her driver's permit test.


7 Lydia steps into the lake and drowns.

Falling Action

8 James returns home.


9 Nath punches Jack by the lake.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Everything I Never Told You? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!