By Celeste Ng
In 1998, the Richardson family is happily living in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Then Miah, a nomadic artist, and her teen-aged daughter rent a house from Mrs. Richardson. When one of Miah’s co-workers sues the state for custody of a baby she abandoned a little over a year ago, Miah and Mrs. Richardson are on opposite sides of the debate. Then Mrs. Richardson discovers a secret Miah has been harboring for years.
When the book opens, the Richardson home has just been destroyed by a fire, and the family is left homeless. Then it shifts to the previous year, detailing events leading to the fire. I found this disappointing because I then had an idea of how the book would end. I considered not finishing it, but curiosity drove me onward. Although I like the author’s depiction of Shaker Heights as a perfect little town, I don’t appreciate the way she inserts narrative during crucial dialog. In most cases, this narrative explains how characters feel, which, from what is being said, should already be obvious to the reader. The ending is unsatisfactory.
On the other hand, I liked the way Ng tells the story from the point of view of each character. She gives the reader a glimpse into each of their minds, even that of the Richardson’s youngest daughter who is often misunderstood. She also tries to help us understand why Miah feels the woman who abandoned her baby should have the right to take the child away from loving parents, unable to have children of their own, who want to adopt her. Despite its drawbacks, this book is a compelling, thought-provoking read.