A young girl haunted by an impending sense of doom navigates the year after her parents’ divorce in 1980s suburbia.
“It is 1988 and America is full of broken homes,” begins Summerfield’s domestic period piece. “America’s time is measured in every-other-weekend-and-sometimes-once-a-week….Her children have bags that’re always packed and waiting at the door.” And so it is for 8-year-old Nenny and her brothers, who split their time between their mother’s house—where they live with her new husband, Rick, and his two kids from his first marriage—and their father’s grim apartment. But Nenny is anxious by nature, with “a natural predilection for alarm ” and a deep-seated belief that “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong,” although for most of her life—divorce excepted—it hasn’t. Still, she is haunted by catastrophic scenarios inspired by the news and just real enough to be devastating: They all succumb to drought because her brother left the water running. There is a home invasion or an earthquake. Mikhail Gorbachev storms the Sacred Heart Catholic School and recruits Nenny’s third-grade class into the Red Army. Mostly, though, Nenny’s day-to-day life is ordinary for a precocious kid growing up in the '80s, trying to make sense of her new family setup. She “draws fashions” with her new best friend, Boots, who lives down the hall from her dad; eats fast food; goes to Disneyland. And then something catastrophic does happen, something horrible and gruesome, something Nenny never even thought to anticipate, and Nenny and her family are left to move forward, together. The details feel perhaps just a touch too familiar—the wise child, the distant dad, the mom doing the best she can—but Summerfield creates a sense of time and of place so vivid the specifics of the plot hardly matter.
Moving but not precious, a gently hopeful novel steeped in late '80s atmosphere.