“During the summer of '85 – back before everything changed – we were all alive, in our little world, our front doors less than one hundred feet apart.”
On the cusp of becoming a teenager, Bee Kocsis and her little sister Audrina are at the beginning of summer break in their tiny New Jersey town.
In 1985, they had little to worry about other than deciding whether to go swimming at Deer Chase Lake or the country club pool – until a family of four, The Bakers, moved in across the street. What was supposed to be a carefree summer of riding bikes and chasing fireflies becomes an unpredictably dark and harrowing reminder that anything can happen no matter how small and safe your own world may seem.
“Our Little World,” Karen Winn's debut novel, is filled with a hypnotic and addictive writing style that effortlessly pulls readers into small town life where Bee is trying to figure out who she is other than an ugly duckling to her little sister's swan.
Winn transports readers to the early 1980s with a huge dose of nostalgia for a time when life seemed simpler, especially in the sleepy town of Hammend at the edge of a cul-de-sac where Bee and her family live in their perfect bubble.
Struggling with the normal pre-teen troubles, Bee is constantly wishing to be popular, wondering whether she will ever kiss the new cute boy across the street and hoping she actually has a life of her own beyond being “Audrina's older sister.”
These typical troubles are turned on their side when the new family of four becomes a family of three after Sally, the 4-year-old daughter, goes missing during a group outing to the lake. Life will never be the same, and the disappearance seems to put a crack in the thin ice that was holding all the dark secrets in Hammend.
The narrative isn't one with a fast pace, which may sound unappealing to readers who prefer nonstop action in a book, but “Our Little World” is still a definite page-turner. The examination of sisterhood, disappearance of a child and the secrets that hide behind the doors of suburban families make this a hard read to put down.
Winn captures this tiny corner of the world through Bee's eyes, which may have readers assuming this is a young adult read, but nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the narrative is hauntingly accurate in capturing the scenario of growing up too fast because of traumatic circumstances and family secrets.
Winn confronts heavy topics – loss, grief, identity, familial bonds and unconditional love – head on with fervor inside this small window of time within a tightknit community that seems to be picturesque and charming on the surface, but ends up being much darker underneath.
“Our Little World” is a captivating read that recognizes how both the journey we go through in childhood and the community we grow up in inevitably shape our paths to adulthood, resulting in the people we ultimately become.
Christy Keller is a page designer for The Journal Gazette.