By: Celeste Ng
Published Year: 2017
Publisher: Penguin Press
Summary (Provided by Goodreads): In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned -- from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren -- an enigmatic artist and single mother -- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
What I thought
The summary of this one didn’t do much for me, so I was a bit iffy when it was the book club pick. I’m glad to say I was oh so wrong!
The Richardsons are a well-to-do family in a picture perfect suburb of Cleveland. Mr. Richardson is a lawyer, Mrs. Richardson is a journalist, and three of their four children are overachievers in the local high school. Mrs. Richardson owns a small property in the neighborhood that she rents out. When Mia and her daughter Pearl move in, she thinks they’re going to be the perfect tenants. But Mia has a past that hold secrets as well as a bit of a nosy nature.
The book was a bit slow to start with. I think there was a lot that needed to get set up as well as a lot of character building. It was a bit difficult because you are thrown right into the end of the story and then brought back to the beginning. However, the characters are built well and relatively quickly. My confusion subsided quickly and my interest rose.
Getting back to the characters, they have such a great development over time. From the beginning to the end they change so much and the characters you think you like at the beginning are not the ones you still like at the end.
The one other thing that threw me a bit with this book is I didn’t realize the time period that it occurred in until I was about 20% of the way through. As a heads up, it happens in (I believe) 1997/1998 (I can’t remember if it’s ever expressly stated). Pearl is 15/16 and she was born in 1982, so that’s my guess. It was fun to see all of the pop culture from that time period because that was when I grew up, so there’s always a bit of nostaligia.
The two main storylines also handle pretty large topics. The first storyline involves a family adopting a Chinese child, but then the birth mother comes back into the pictures. This divides not only the Richardsons, but the whole town. The second is the mysterious history of Mia and her daughter Pearl. I loved how entangled everyone and everything became. You didn’t know where one story started and where the next one ended.
Speaking of stories ending, that is the one thing I wasn’t crazy about. Maybe book club will help me out with this, but I definitely had some unanswered questions and that always drives me a little crazy.
What Book Club Thought
All but one of us really enjoyed it. Three book club members liked it a bit more than me, one liked it a bit less and then I was in the middle. It made for great discussion though! We not only talked about the writing and the character development (which some of us liked but some felt fell flat), but we had great discussions about the actual events that occurred. What would you do in Mia's situation? What would you do in Lexie's situation? Do you believe in the decision made about the adoption?
It was definitely a great book to discuss and the decision we all came to was that while this won't be a book that jumps to the forefront when someone asks "Any good books lately?", if someone asked specifically about it, we would recommend checking it out.