Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos starts out like this:
“My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.”
It begins as a fish out of water story about Cornelia Brown, a character from de los Santos’ debut novel, Love Walked In, which I did not read. No matter. I didn’t even realize this was a continuation of another book until after I’d read it. It was great all by itself!
Cornelia and her handsome doctor hubby, Teo, move to suburbia from the city, and pretty soon they are getting to know people. Teo, by the way, is Handsome with a capital H. The frequent reminders of his hotness made me think of the way Stephenie Meyers described Edward in Twilight. He’s attractive; very, very attractive, and doesn’t seem to know it. Mr. Modest.
We don’t get to know Teo that well, although he plays a pivotal role in the story. Belong to Me is more about women, and their relationships with each other. Ok, about their relationships with men, too. But it’s more a book about women. Piper from across the street is a snooty beyotch (did I spell that right??); a married stay at home mom who is critical of everyone. Right off the bat, she makes comments about Cornelia’s name, hair, and yard. Pipe’s BFF Elizabeth, sadly, is battling cancer, which is awful but really brings out the human side of Piper. Cornelia befriends a waitress named Lake who seems smart and blissfully normal (and nicknames Piper “Viper”- ingratiating herself to Cornelia instantly). But Lake has a secret- a big one. She also has a son, 13 year old Dev, with a genius IQ. And Clare is a frequent guest at Cornelia and Teo’s house, who Dev falls for, hard. Ah, first love.
It was interesting to see the transformation that takes place in the characters, especially Piper. All her perfectionism and controlling behaviors mask an inner self doubt and lack of confidence, and when things beyond her control threaten her carefully constructed life, it forces her to take a closer look at the things that truly matter- love, friends, family- not the manicured lawn or the perfect crease in the sleeve of her blouse. Even Cornelia likes her by the end of the book.
The story is told from 3 points of view in alternating chapters- Cornelia, Piper, and Dev. De los Santos did a great job of keeping their voices unique- I could easily tell who was telling the story. Cornelia had such an interesting vocabulary, Piper was really into appearances and denial, Dev was teenage-awkward and brilliant in the best possible way. The characters had a depth that made them very realistic to me.
There’s money, private schools, cancer and death, secrets and lies, inappropriate relationships, affairs, and children- legitimate and otherwise. Does it sound a bit like a soap opera? I guess it does, but Santos is able to intertwine these characters and their stories in such a way that the reader truly cares about them. The book is filled with hope and friends, laughter and tears, and the warm feeling that comes from knowing we belong to the ones who love us. My emotions were all over the map while reading Belong to Me, and the unexpected ending was a real treat. De los Santos is a truly gifted writer. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.
Oh! OH! I almost forgot! Harper Collins is generously offering copies of Belong to Me to 3 lucky readers! Leave a comment by Monday, May 25th, for a chance to win!!
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