Published April 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers
Everyone has secrets. Some we keep to protect ourselves, others to protect those we love.
A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden desire to head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she's made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt, the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake, and Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman.
As their individual stories unfold, the women become entangled in a web of trust, betrayal, love and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined, and that ultimately teaches them what it means for one human being to belong to another.
I would wager to say that I've had this book on my shelves for eight or so years. It's one of those books that everyone was reading once upon a time and so I picked it up when I found it on sale. And then...well, you know the story - shiny new books or it never seemed to be the thing that piqued my interest. But when I was pulling books that might be good for Dewey's Read-a-thon, I thought this one might just be perfect. I was right.
What I Liked:
- The setting: although this is not entirely the 'burbs like I know the 'burbs (it's a neighborhood of older homes), it also is exactly the suburbs as I know them. The queen bee, the hierarchy, the overwhelming need to have everything just so and to fit in. I have known people just like Piper and Cornelia. I could relate to them, the way gossip races through a neighborhood, and the way people in suburbs can be hyper-judgmental.
- The characters: for the most part, I really thought de los Santos did a marvelous job of creating characters that were multi-dimensional. Sure, Piper is a queen bee b*tch but I swear to you, you will come to care about her. Dev (Lake's son) is an extremely smart kid but de los Santos focuses more on the ways he's just like every other kid. Elizabeth, Piper's best friend, is a woman who spent a fortune to remodel her kitchen into a state of the art room but she's also a woman with a marvelous sense of humor.
- The ending: if this were a television show, the last chapter of this book would be that scene at the end where all of the characters are gathered around a big table laughing, talking, and smiling while the perfect song plays over it all. It was just the way I wanted the book to end. But de los Santos didn't bring readers to that point without some struggle and it isn't all happily-ever-after.
- The writing: I quite enjoyed the cleverness of de los Santos' writing right from the beginning of the book. She was able to make me chuckle throughout; more importantly, she was able to make me cry, and you know how rare that it.
What Didn't Work As Well For Me:
- Lake: I sort of felt like her story was a bit too convoluted and I can't say that I liked her. I think readers are supposed to feel sorry for her. But this is a woman who finds herself in a predicament more because of the lies she's told than the things that have happened to her beyond her own control. And those lies take a terrible toll on others around her.
- It could have been maybe 50 pages shorter. There were places where I felt like things weren't as tight as they might have been and there were some characters who de los Santos included who I think could have been left out without losing anything from the story.
Some Gems I Found:
"I had lit out for the suburbs in the manner of pioneers and pilgrims, not so bravely and with fewer sweeping historical consequences, but with that same combination of discouragement and hope, that simultaneous running-away and running-toward."
"I loved the noise, opening my window to let a confetti of sound fly in. I loved how leaving my apartment, in pursuit of newspapers or bags of apricots or bagels so perfect they were not so much bagels as odes to gloss and chewiness, never just felt like going out, but like setting out, adrenaline singing in my veins, the unexpected glancing off storefronts, simmering in grates and ledges, pooling in stairwells, awaiting me around every corner, down every alleyway.
Imagine an enormous strutting peacock with the whole jeweled city for a tail."
"Happy childhoods happen. Ours happened. What came back to me, with lightning-crack vividness, as I looked out the car window, were the clusters of women, at birthday parties, cookouts, standing in yards and kitchen, the air warm with their talking, and how oddly interchangeable we all were, women and children both. The woman who picked us up when we fell down or wiped our faces or fed us lunch or yelled us down from treetops or out of mud (all of it so casually, with barely a break in the conversation or an extra breath) may have been our mother but could just as easily been someone else's. We hardly noticed. The women merged into a kind of laughing, chatting, benevolent blur, a network of distracted love and safekeeping."This last particularly appealed to me. This was the neighborhood of my youth. I know I was blessed to have had it and I wouldn't change it for anything.