Two eighth-graders witness an armed robbery in a sandwich shop. One is taken, the other left behind—making her a very lucky, very troubled girl.
It must be because Lisa Bellow weighs 15 pounds less and is hotter than her: that's one of Meredith Oliver's thoughts as she tries to understand what happened at the Deli Barn, where she stopped for a root beer after a particularly trying algebra class and ended up witnessing the kidnapping of her middle school’s No. 1 mean girl. Meredith’s nonabduction befalls the Oliver family less than a year after another out-of-the-blue trauma—her brother, a high school baseball star, had his left eye and socket completely crushed by a foul ball. We track the family’s attempt to cope with these misfortunes through the alternating perspectives of Meredith and her mother, Claire. Overwhelmed by her parents’ solicitousness—“Her father was a flashing yellow light in the middle of the kitchen; her mother’s smile looked like she’d drawn it on her face after consulting an illustrated encyclopedia of expressions”—Meredith slips further and further away, her concern with Lisa’s disappearance becoming obsessional, which Perabo (Why They Run the Way They Do, 2016, etc.) conveys using a daring and suspenseful narrative strategy. Claire Oliver, who shares a dental practice with her good-natured, unfailingly kind husband, Mark, is as fine a fictional character as we have encountered in some time, dark, moody, passionate about her children, keenly self-aware, and very, very funny. Contemplating her own mother’s long-ago death, for example, she thinks, “God…death was complicated. And exhausting. And apparently it just kept on being complicated and exhausting forever, probably until you yourself died and became an exhausting complication someone else had to constantly negotiate.” You will hate to leave the inside of this woman’s head when you finish the book.
The texture of family life as it unravels, then begins to regenerate, is conveyed with unflinching clarity and redemptive good humor.