Adapted into a limited series by Amazon Prime, Ng’s book follows the intersecting lives of two families in Shaker Heights, Ohio- single mother Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl, and the Richardson family, parents Bill and Elena and their four teenagers Lexi, Trip, Moody and Izzy. After Mia and Pearl become Elena’s tenants in her rental property, the two families gradually become more involved in each other’s lives- Moody and Pearl become fast friends, Mia agrees to be a part-time housekeeper for the Richardson’s and a teenage love triangle arises. Mia and Elena have different views on parenthood and life generally, and they are set up as foils for each other. When Mia and Elena both have friends on the opposite sides of an inter-racial adoption, the stage is set for their world views to collide.
I really enjoyed this book- it is a quick, engrossing, well-written and thought-provoking read. Although I know that Ng intended to write both characters with compassion, and I didn’t hate Elena, I was really on team Mia. Part of this was that I feel like I know a lot of Elena’s (spoiler: if you know a Karen you know an Elena) but less Mia’s, and I found Mia very inspiring- I am still mulling over the way that Mia approaches life (with empathy but without either being a pushover or caring about people’s opinions). The kids and the minor characters, in particular the two mothers battling it out for the abandoned baby, are all also well-written, rounded characters that I could identify with on some level.
I also loved all the 90’s throwbacks- Ng sets the novel in the late 90s, when I was in high school and the references all feel very real. No cellphones, no internet (researching using the school library’s encyclopedias!), the idea that we could ‘not see race’- it really takes me back.
If you watched the tv adaption and were put off, I really encourage you to try and forget any disappointment and dive into the book- it is so much better. I loved Mia so much and Kerry Washington’s performance did her a disservice by portraying her as an abrasive jerk whose decisions come out of left field. In the book Mia is a quieter observer but not abrasive, and the reasoning for her decisions is clearer. Big summer (or anytime) read recommend.