Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Published October 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: checked out from my local library
Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.
Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.
Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?
Lillian has had a crap life. Her only hope to get out of it was her intelligence which enabled her to get into an elite high school. Unfortunately, that was, literally, sold out from under her. The reality of life after she gets kicked out of the school is overwhelming and Lillian gives up. Instead of making a great life for herself, at twenty-eight, she is still living in her mother’s attic. Who could blame a girl for jumping at the chance to help an old friend who’s offering you a salary, free room and board, and an entirely new wardrobe, even if it means taking care of children bad attitudes who might burst into flames at any moment?
Maybe because the twins have lived an even worse life than Lillian has, she has much more empathy than anyone else in their lives. Lillian has spent so long living down to expectations that even she is surprised when, after a very rocky start, she starts to win over the children and learn how to manage their combustible tendencies. Like all kids, it doesn’t take Bessie and Roland long to figure out that Lillian might just be the only person around who really cares about them which surprises Lillian as much as it surprises the kids.
I’ve seen this one around and heard good things about it but I couldn’t imagine that a book about children that burst into flames would appeal to me. But then Care (of Care’s Online Book Club) reviewed it and enjoyed it; if Care likes it, I always know there’s a good chance I will as well. And, truth be told, I do enjoy a quirky, dark comedy now and again. So when I saw it on the shelf at my library, I picked it up. It’s not a long book and the reading was made much faster by the fact that I was enjoying it so much. It’s funny and weird and tender. The ending is spot on.
Not sure a book about children who start on fire is for you? Imagine instead that Bessie and Roland are two children whose father has abandoned them, who are inconvenient for the people who should be caring for them, and who have some behavioral issues which require special handling. Then imagine them being assigned the most ill-prepared person to care for them who actually does end up doing just that – caring for them.