Look at that gorgeous cover – ignore the Read with Jenna emblem (although, TBH, Jenna has decent taste in books). Those colors, that tree full of wild branches – these evoke the almost restless experience of the three generations of Tran women that populate this novel. The house depicted on the cover looks tiny, but the novel makes clear that the home these women inhabit in Florida was anything but small. Theirs is a verifiable mansion – albeit one in shabby conditions, full of too many possessions, with all sorts of nooks and crannies that are perfect for holding secrets. And a novel about mothers and daughters is sure to ALSO be a novel about secrets.
Ann has grown up with her mother, Huong, and grandmother Minh, in their small Florida town – but she hasn’t lived there for years, choosing instead to live in a far away big city with her wealthy boyfriend, Noah. Although Noah can be charming, he’s also the younger son in a family that intends to pass down some serious generational wealth. It’s at Noah’s parents’ anniversary party, a swanky affair, that Ann realizes just how meaningful it is that her world and Noah’s are so very different. And that isn’t the end of her revelations – Ann confronts her relationship while ALSO realizing that all the vomiting / excessive tiredness / strange feeling in her body mean that she’s pregnant. Before she can even share the news with Noah, she receives the news that her beloved grandmother has died.
Ann escapes her worries about her life and travels back to Florida to help her mother with the funeral and taking care of the house that was once their home. Huong is happy to welcome her daughter back home – but cautious, because she always felt like Ann was far closer to her own mother than to herself. The relationships between each mother-daughter pair are strained – each mother is acutely aware of her own shortcomings, each daughter has reason to feel that she did not get what she needed and wanted from her mother while growing up. As theirs is a house full of women, a natural question might be what became of the fathers – and that is, indeed, the source of more than one secret in among these women.
While I enjoyed much of this book and the beautiful writing, I had a few quibbles with parts of the novel. One pervasive issue is more than likely just related to my own feelings right now of being very strained for money – and so, in a fit of jealousy, I was unreasonably frustrated that money was fully abundant for all of these characters (despite making it seem as though they are “from the wrong side of the tracks” in reference to Ann’s relationship with Noah). I was also not entirely pleased with the reveal of a rather huge event that occurred in the past. It felt like a truly outsized secret, one that strains credulity to think that it was and remained a secret for all these years, and would just continue as such beyond the course of the novel – and the impact it had on the characters did not feel adequate? In a similar vein, something happened to more or less resolve the issues with the house, and that felt like a MAJOR overreaction (though with plenty of foreshadowing), and it … just sort of happened? Much of the book was really interesting character development, and then these reveals / events occur, and to me it was a bit jarring and out of step with the rest of the novel.
There are depictions of some abuse, content warnings apply. The sections on grief and dealing with loss are beautiful but be careful if you’re a tender reader at the moment.