This is a thought-provoking and engaging read that weaves together several storylines, but centres on the complex relationship between mother and child.
It begins with a house fire. The Richardson's youngest daughter, Izzy, is presumed responsible, as she is the black sheep of the family. From here we are taken back eleven months and given an account of the events leading up to the fire.
Shaker Heights, Ohio is a progressive community that has been planned in meticulous detail. The author paints a picture of somewhere with high ideals and expectations of conformity. There are many rules to follow. For instance, people are only permitted to paint their houses certain colours, in order to preserve the overall aesthetic of the place. Elena Richardson embodies Shaker's values and believes in following the rules. The local reporter and mother of four is one of Shaker's prominent residents. Throughout the novel she is almost always referred to as Mrs Richardson.
When she rents an apartment to Mia Warren, a struggling artist and single mother, the two families effect each other's lives in ways none of them could have imagined. Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl, have lived a nomadic existence, with Mia supporting them by working part-time jobs and selling the photographs she takes. When Pearl starts to spend time with the Richardson family she becomes captivated by them and their home. Meanwhile, Izzy Richardson, who has a strained relationship with her mother, is drawn by Mia's non-conformity and offers to become her assistant.
Mrs Richardson grows suspicious of Mia when they come down on opposing sides of a custody battle over a Chinese baby. The case involves the prospective adoptive parents, who are friends of Mrs Richardson's, and the child's birth mother. Here questions are raised about cultural identity and what it means to be a mother. Mia's stance bothers Mrs Richardson and prompts her to dig into Mia's past, uncovering a secret.
Though some may find the pacing slow, this is a beautifully written book, full of richly-drawn characters. It will leave you contemplating some of the issues raised long after you've finished reading.