What is it about the VanderZee family that makes everyone want to leave it?
In their Michigan town, the VanderZees are pretty much average. When Malcolm and Esme got married in college (she was pregnant), she gave up her painting career, he went on to be a college professor, and now they have four kids. On the face of it, nothing special. Fortunately for readers, though, things are seen here through the eyes of their two older children—Evan, 15, and Suzan, 17—who have that amazing adolescent ability to make everything seem more dramatic and important than it probably is. Suzan is intelligent beyond her years and loses herself in long, dreamy reveries of a more romantic life, spurred on by her love of Thomas Hardy and the Brontës. She’s dismissive of her brother (whose inner life couldn’t possibly be as rich as hers, thinks she) and contemptuous of her distracted mother, who, she’s convinced, is having an affair with the weird guy who keeps calling. Evan keeps to himself, mostly, skipping school to catch foreign films downtown, but he’s increasingly obsessed with Soci, the gorgeous and dangerous new girl in school, who just moved from New York and seems a bottle full of promise when they start dating. Suzan can’t wait to get out of the house, Soci’s trying to convince Evan to run off to Chicago, Esme is never home, Malcolm dreams of going on sabbatical to Italy, and even the youngest, five-year-old Aimee, almost leaves the family in a different way: knocked off her bike by a minivan, she has a near-death experience that she doesn’t want to stop reliving. It’s all the stuff of schmaltzy family fiction, but first-timer Cook electrifies her material with unusually forceful writing and a perceptive knack for illustrating the self-indulgence of adolescents and their flighty yet powerful interior dramas.
This indeed is how teenagers think, and how families almost collapse.