Sunday, October 5, 2008

Who is Family?


“Belong to Me” was given to me this summer by a friend. I was on vacation and I had read all the books I had carried with me and since the small town I was staying in did not have a library, and I did not have a car to travel to a bookstore, I was very happy to take donations. “Belong to Me” is Marisa de los Santos' second novel. It is the story of three women. Cornelia and her husband, a successful physician, have moved from New York City to an affluent Philadelphia suburb. Cornelia, the ultimate urbanite, is having problems relating to the other suburban wives. She is especially put off by her neighbor, Piper Truitt. Piper is the quintessential suburban mom, perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect house, perfect husband and two beautiful, perfect children. When Cornelia offers to go to the farmer’s market with Piper, Piper asks Cornelia to sit in the back, explaining that she does not know how to disable the airbag, and since Cornelia is the size of a twelve year old it would make it unsafe for her to sit in the front! In desperation Cornelia forges a friendship with Lake, a waitress who loves literature and old movies. Lake tells Cornelia she has moved to the town to send her son, Dev, to a high school for gifted children.

Ms. Santos develops three very strong women characters. We watch as Piper’s perfect world begins to crumble. Her beloved best friend, Elizabeth, is diagnosed with rapidly progressing cancer. Piper is the one who steps up to take care of Elizabeth and her family. The trivial things that were so important to Piper fade away and she turns to Cornelia for solace and strength. Lake’s son questions the move across country to this suburban town. He questions the life his mother has set out for him. Was this a ploy to find and confront Dev’s biological father? Lake’s motives for befriending Cornelia become suspect.

It is a story driven by these three strong women characters. Their lives become entangled as their secrets begin to unravel. The chapters dealing with Elizabeth’s cancer are vivid and realistic. The way that Piper changes from a judgmental, intolerable neighborhood bully to a caring, down to earth woman is very well done. Often the complicated storyline becomes contrived. But, Marisa de los Santos’ strong theme of what makes up a family and how belonging, love and friendship are what is really important, make for an enjoyable, recommendable read.

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