The book begins with a house burning down and then goes back to how we got there, following the lives of a group of people who become intertwined through their children and siblings.
Mia Warren and her teenager daughter, Pearl, move into a rented house in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s a city that has been planned to perfection and run by specific rules, down to what colour you can paint your house. It’s safe and predictable and the opposite of what Mia and Pearl have known for the last few years. Always moving, keeping few possessions and following Mia’s art, they’re ready to put down roots for a little while.
Their landlords are the Richardsons, Elena and her husband Bill, a journalist and lawyer respectively. They have four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy (sidebar, does Moody have a real name, is this a family nickname, or what?), and Pearl, sheltered and spending most of her time on the move with her mother, soon makes friends with Moody. He’s her gateway into the Richardson family and she quickly finds herself spending all her time there, enamoured with their way of life and easiness with each other. Mia is also thrown into the Richardson’s world when Elena asks her to be their housekeeper.
When one of Elena’s oldest friends gets embroiled in a bitter custody dispute, Mia and Elena end up on opposite sides. Frustrated, Elena starts digging into Mia’s mysterious past, causing friction within her family, especially with her youngest daughter, Izzy.
This is a beautifully written, engrossing novel I finished pretty quickly. I enjoyed it a lot and really loved getting to know the characters and learning more about Mia’s past. But I think I was expecting more. Something a little harder hitting? I’m not sure why. It’s…nice? But it feels like something I’ve read before, or at least could have. There’s nothing especially exciting about it. I don’t think that’s a negative, given I did enjoy reading it, I just would have liked to have felt a bit more on finishing. It’s not devastating. It is lovely and moving at times but it hasn’t left much of an impact, other than wanting to know what happens to the characters. I wasn’t heartbroken by anything that happened, there’s no huge gut punch. It’s just a quietly affecting story about multiple people going about their lives in a privileged and protected community. I think I’d like more from Ng with these characters, especially Izzy. And Pearl. I’d like to see who they become.