Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos is a charming book about friendship, secrets, and what it means to be family. It is narrated by three characters: Cornelia, a former city-girl settling down in the suburbs with her doctor husband; Piper, the Queen Bee of the suburbs and Cornelia’s across the street neighbor; and Dev, a 13 year old boy who is the son of Cornelia’s first friend in town, Lake.
Cornelia moves to a suburb of Philadelphia after a decade or so in New York City ready to settle down and have a family. Her husband, Teo, is a doctor who she has known since childhood. Piper is a materialistic, judgmental, status-driven, keeping up appearances at all costs, housewife in Cornelia’s new middle upper-class neighborhood. At first Piper is icy toward Cornelia – criticizing her dead Mums on the front porch, suggesting ways to landscape, and telling Cornelia she can’t sit in the front seat of her car because she is so small the airbag would hurt her were it to deploy. Cornelia takes this amazingly in stride and begins to build a friendship with Piper.
I wanted to dislike Piper until I saw her relationship with her best friend Elizabeth. They’ve raised their children together, go on vacations together, and Elizabeth is the only who can see through Piper’s icy facade. Elizabeth is dying of cancer and the news that it’s terminal hits Piper hard. She neglects her marriage to take care of Elizabeth, her children, and Elizabeth’s husband, Tom. It’s by observing Piper’s friendship with Elizabeth that the reader, and Cornelia, gets to see the human side of Piper.
Cornelia’s first friend in town is also a newcomer herself, Lake, and a waitress at a local Italian restaurant. Lake moved her and her son, Deveraux (“Dev”), to Pennsylvania from California after testing proved how truly exceptional Dev is. Lake is unusually guarded and Cornelia can’t figure out why.
I really, really enjoyed this book. It was one that took me a week to read (I usually read a book in 3 days or so) because I wanted to savor every last bit. de los Santos’ writing is beautiful. I knew exactly who was narrating each chapter without looking because Cornelia, Piper, and Dev all had very distinct voices. I surprised myself by ending up like Piper’s chapters a lot more than Cornelia’s, when she is the protagonist of the story. I felt like Cornelia’s life and marriage was almost “too perfect.” Teo is a doctor, he’s incredibly good looking, and he is very nice. The only flaw in Cornelia’s life was that she was desperate to become a mother and that hadn’t happened yet for her. She was also incredibly gracious to keep giving Piper chance after chance when she didn’t deserve it.
Piper’s character was the most developed. We learn she is ashamed of her past and where she came from which fuels her incessant need to keep up appearances and be at the top of her social circle. I loved the chapters with her and Elizabeth. Every woman wants a real female friendship that is honest and tender. By the end Piper isn’t the “Queen Bee” anymore, but is a person who is more true to herself.
Dev’s chapters were very intellectual and thinky and it took me a while to figure out where he belonged in the book. His and Lake’s relationships are fraught with secrets that are revealed toward the end. Dev is a very smart kid and knows that Lake is up to something and he figures it out before anyone else does. I don’t know how Dev comes to forgive Lake because I’m still angry with her a month after reading the book (which proves I become too emotionally involved with fictional characters). de los Santos does a great way of tying up and tying together all the characters’ stories by the end.
All in all, this was a lovely book. One I would recommend and read again. It made me want to read all of de los Santos’ books. I definitely like her style.