On her 40th birthday, a fashion designer reflects on everything she has—and everything she stands to lose—as the life she thought she left behind catches up to her.
Ellie de Florent-Stinson is throwing an epic birthday party for herself at her mansion in Palm Springs, and no one seems to be looking forward to it, least of all her. Though she’s grateful to be married with four kids, her home life is less than ideal: Her husband is unemployed, her twin boys are wild, and her daughter is being bullied at school. Her stepdaughter makes an appearance at the party, but so does her husband’s vicious ex. Worst of all, if she doesn’t come through with a new business deal soon, Ellie’s company will go bankrupt—thinking of her age, she laments that fashion has changed. In alternating chapters, de la Cruz (All for One, 2019, etc.) contrasts the glamorous but vacuous world of the back-stabbing elite with gritty but often sweet memories of Ellie’s impoverished youth living next door to her best friend in an Oregon trailer park. In a flashback set 24 years in the past, Leo (as Ellie was then called) and Mish are celebrating Leo’s 16th birthday by shoplifting at the mall and meeting up with Mish’s boyfriend (who’s Leo’s secret crush). Mish is the heart of the story—a true friend who shouts “It’s your birthday! We! Are! Celebrating!” even if “celebrating” means little more than sneaking liquor and trying to find a better place to hang out. If Ellie’s adult friends could be this sincere, she might feel less alone. But something happens by the end of the Sweet 16 party that Ellie will spend the rest of her life trying to forget, and on the night of her 40th birthday, someone from her past will come back to remind her.
Scandalous and bittersweet, our heroine's charmed life seems to teeter on designer stilettos as she gets closer to the truth of who she really is.