STARRED REVIEW
August 04, 2011

Friendship and family secrets

By Mary Gordon
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Fifteen-year-old Pearl (known to all as Bean) and her best friend Henry spend afternoons watching “Days of Our Lives” at Henry’s house. Bean and Henry are both misfits, united by their absent fathers and weird mothers. Henry’s mom—who watches soap operas religiously—is obese and agoraphobic, afraid to leave the house since Henry’s father disappeared. Bean’s mom, who was 15 herself when she had Bean, is an unhappy waitress, spending her nights drinking too much, fighting with Bean’s grandfather Gus and making Bean feel guilty for having been born.

When Gus dies unexpectedly, Bean fears that she’s the only one who truly loved her grandfather. She can’t understand her mother’s celebratory attitude, the constant presence of her mom’s best friend or her own feelings of anger and loss, not to mention her increasingly complicated feelings about Henry. As she starts to ask questions—and get some unwelcome answers—Bean starts to feel like her life is becoming one giant soap opera.

In Jo Knowles’ latest novel, little is as it seems in the novel’s first pages. Yet the substantial revelations that occur over the course of this brief novel are, in the end, less compelling than the smaller moments that define the constantly shifting relationships that form the foundation of Bean’s life. In particular, Bean’s relationship with Henry is a compassionate, realistic portrayal of a sustaining, loving friendship. Although there are times when Bean’s whole life—from her name to her paternity to her very sense of herself—are thrown into question, some things, like genuine friendship, withstand even the craziest changes life throws her way.

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Pearl

Pearl

By Mary Gordon
Pantheon
ISBN 9780375423154

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