Lily loves Charlie more than any other human, for he rescued her when other potential adopters frowned at her limp. She’d been abused by her previous owner and her broken leg healed without veterinarian intervention. Now he’s being bullied and Lily must figure out a way to help him amid the chaos of Dad’s drinking, Mom’s sadness, his sister’s possible suspect boyfriend, and his big brother’s anger. The unique perspective of a cat gives readers a view from inside the family, but with a pure, some might say naive, but definitely less than jaded, outlook. Lily can be as surprised as a person by such things as Charlie’s choice of “mate” being another boy. Ward’s representation of a gender-fluid, gay teenager comes across as natural and inclusive, even as she shows the challenges he must face, especially from his own family. His mother and sister’s acceptance counter his father’s confusion and his brother’s resistance. Of course there’s a romantic interest for mom, who’s separated from dad and planning divorce. However, he immediately touches her intimately and insinuates himself into family issues, coming across as a bit creepy rather than romantic—too much too soon. This is the only part of the story that doesn’t flow organically, a small distraction. This story presents multiple serious subjects that are handled with compassion: alcoholism, addiction, chronic pain, divorce, and gender expectations. Ward takes her family down a path of resolution surprising, yet realistic. Readers who love main characters off the beaten path will appreciate this story; animal lovers will be vindicated.
Someone died at the Pirriwee Elementary parent’s trivia night. Just who, how, and why are explored throughout the story, beginning months earlier with new mom Jane and son Ziggy introduced to the kindergarten community. Madeline and Celeste befriend her as their frenemies waylay her with accusations. Secrets worm their way out painfully slowly, personalities clash, and life decisions are made. The parents of Pirriewee Elementary learn more about each other this year than they ever wanted to know: bullying, adultery, abuse, etc.
Moriarty brilliantly resolves every tangle in this convoluted storyline, with a gotcha ending. She not so much develops the characters as seemingly lays out the personalities of loudmouth, but loving Madeline, whose ex remarried granola Bonnie and enrolled his kindergärtner in the same class as her child, gorgeous, flaky Celeste, mother of twins, who can hold a secret tighter than a nutshell, and Jane, an anomaly who drops a bombshell on them.
Antagonist Renata, with sidekick Harper, and half of the kindergarten parents, relentlessly pursues her goal of removing Jane’s son from the class based on an assumption. Moriarty does an excellent job of showing Renata’s justifiable reason of protecting her child, making her a complex character who is intertwined in the main character’s lives before Jane arrives. She weaves all of the extraneous, yet relevant, characters into the story through police statements and references by the main characters. The revelations that lead to a resolution are doled out in a credible timeline and manner, contributing to the group’s unusual reaction to the death.
I don’t know anyone else who writes like Liane Moriarty. She keeps a huge amount of details under control and multiple characters distinct. The perceived slights and misread cues are so relatable to any reader. Surely everyone has jumped the gun once or twice, especially when concerned about their child’s welfare, or gone overboard when obsessing about something outside of their control. Moriarty is great at telling details that connect characters and at the same time, explain why they miss something that they later feel should have been obvious.
Readers who love mysteries set amongst everyday people and places will appreciate this story. Those who like to see the bit of naughtiness in people will enjoy the novel. It’s a wild ride!