March 16, 2008
Belong to Me
Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
2008 HarperCollins Publishers
Finished on 3/13/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
ARC - Due out on April 1, 2008
Everyone has secrets. Some we keep to protect ourselves, others we keep to protect those we love.
A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised no one more than herself when she was gripped by the sudden, inescapable desire to leave urban life behind and head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she and her beloved husband, Teo, have made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships in her new home. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt. Perfectly manicured, impeccably dressed, and possessing impossible standards, Piper is the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake. Over a shared love of literature and old movies, Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman who has also recently arrived in town, ostensibly to send her perceptive and brilliant son, Dev, to a school for the gifted.
Marisa de los Santos's literary talents shine in the complex interactions she creates between these three women. She deftly explores the life-altering roller coaster of emotions Piper faces as she cares for two households, her own and that of her cancer-stricken best friend, Elizabeth. Skillfully, de los Santos creates an enigmatic and beguiling character in Lake, who draws Cornelia closer even as she harbors a shocking secret. And from the first page until the exhilarating conclusion, de los Santos engages readers with Cornelia, who, while trying to adapt to her new surroundings, must remain true to herself. As their individual stories unfold, the women become entangled in a web of trust, betrayal, love, and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined, and that ultimately teaches them what it means for one human being to belong to another.
I loved this book. I loved the vividly depicted characters and how the author slowly allows the reader to get close to them. Even the prickly ones. I love the unique, quirky names de los Santos has chosen: Cornelia, Teo (Mateo), Deveroux, Aidan, Piper, Lake, Rafferty, and Kyle. Each name fits its respective character perfectly, and as I think back on the story, I can quickly envision each and every one.
And to think I almost gave up, sure that it was going to be nothing more than another book about women's friendships. Not that there's anything wrong with that sort of book, but I just finished Elizabeth Noble's Things I Want My Daughters to Know and felt I needed something a bit more substantial. Well, I wound up getting it. Sure, Belong to Me borders on fluffy chick-lit, but the writing is oh, so beautiful. Not lyrical in the sense of Pat Conroy or Rick Bragg, but beautiful, descriptive phrases that force you to pause and go back for a second reading. And no wonder: It turns out that Marisa is also an award-winning poet.
This is a book about love & friendship, trust & loyalty, and ultimately the strength of family ties. The subplot dealing with Elizabeth's cancer is realistic and tender, yet doesn't dominate the entire story. The blossoming friendship between Piper and Cornelia reminded me just ever-so-slightly of Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts' characters in the movie Step Mom. I found myself getting teary-eyed on several occasions, yet this isn't a depressing read. More than a guilty pleasure, this intimate and engaging read is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy, spring afternoon and one you'll want to share with all your girlfriends. I'd love to read a sequel, as I'm already missing Cornelia, Piper, Dev and Clare, but it may be another year or two before the author publishes another book. (And who knows if she plans to continue with Cornelia's story.) But as luck would have it, I missed her debut title (Love Walked In), which just happens to be the prequel to Belong to Me. I know what I'm buying tomorrow at work!