It is 1988 and America is full of broken homes.
I devoured this novel, I absolutely loved Nenny and her entire wacky, lost family. I’m nostalgic for the 80’s, and I kept thinking about tv shows and toys as this novel took me back to my childhood, though my elementary school years were the early 80’s. It seems families started cracking, splitting more around that time than any other. This is a story about a family as it dismantled told through the eyes of the charming Nenny. Nenny isn’t perfect, in fact early on its obvious she herself isn’t found of happy, nice kids who have mommy’s that bring them hot lunch everyday and live in a home filled with the adoration of both parents, still married. She’s sarcastic, funny, and very sad. She fills the reader in on, ‘A Brief History of Why Everything Sucks’, in her life. Her brothers, Bubbles and Tiny are funny little characters too, especially the youngest Tiny. Mom and Dad destroy their world and divorce, then along comes Rick, mom’s new man and his children Charles and Kat. Bingo, Bango- she now has more siblings, an instant family.
We follow Nenny as she navigates the construction of their new world, in stops and starts. Through the loyalties, rejections, and mysteries she stews in fear of something awful happening. She was born with ‘a natural predilection for alarm.’ She couldn’t have conjured the tragedy that occurs even in her worst nightmare. Her weekends with her dad are gloomy, he seems to have fallen in a constant dishevelled state without her mother. He tries, he really does try to be fun, to make the most of their weekends together, but somehow his happiness dissipates and lies on the ground like a limp balloon. One house is full of chaos and noise, new sibling who are and the other is take out food, a pool you can’t swim in and a new friend, Boots.
An older sister isn’t the fantasy she once longed for, as the only girl in her brood, anymore than the dog who decides to be their pet is the fluffy stuff of dreams. In fact, one is just fleas and mange and the other infected with a case of the ‘teens’. Then there are horror stories on the news at night and there is the looming threat of masked men. They could come after her! As if being a kid of divorce wasn’t bad enough already!
Though the tragedy that happens is a shockingly horrible event, this novel is a quiet, humourous tale about the torment Nenny goes through when her parents split up. It’s a child’s perception, and the bigger meaning is always running around some corner her mind isn’t grown up enough to capture. It’s tender and moving. “Mysteries abound when you are young. Some unravel and reveal themselves over the course of your lifetime, but most remained unsolved.”
She doesn’t always get it, but she’s trying. The grown ups all have their own messes to slip in, some more bloody than others. The kids are in constant struggle trying to merge in this family they didn’t pick and all the new faces that make up their new life (exes, step- grandmother) just leave Nenny with more mysteries to poke and prod. Sometimes she finds clarity but more often than not, her world is just turned upside down and how in the heck is a little girl like her supposed to understand her life if the adults can’t get it right?
Funny, tender, sad, and horrible moments swirl through the novel. I tore through this book in 2 days. I love Nenny, and I have a soft spot for Tiny, the runt.
Publication Date: April 17, 2018
Little, Brown and Company