Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr): Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

Nothing to See Here

Families of the particularly dysfunctional variety seem to be Kevin Wilson's forte, whether artistically constructed as in The Family Fang or experimentally psychological as in Perfect Little World. Despite a sense of head-shaking impossibility, Wilson somehow manages to make his make-believe believable--in between the inappropriate laughing and bittersweet empathizing.

Privilege, power and inequity whorl through Nothing to See Here. Back in their "fancy girls' school hidden on a mountain in the middle of nowhere," Lillian and Madison begin their relationship as assigned roommates. Lillian is a valley townie, the daughter of a single mother and missing father; she's poor but smart, and gains entrance on scholarship. That promise gets waylaid by big-money heiress Madison. Alas, the girls' friendship is temporary, canceled by a lucrative deal Madison's father strikes with Lillian's mother that insulates Madison and propels Lillian back to her "awful public high school."

Remarkably, the girls stay in touch, and in the spring of 1995, Madison summons Lillian to Franklin, Tenn., with "an interesting job opportunity." In the decade-plus since they last met, Madison has become a senator's wife and stepmother to his children. Settling into Madison's seemingly idyllic, sprawling compound, Lillian is placed in charge of the senator's 10-year-old twins, Roland and Bessie. "There's something I have to tell you about them," Madison warns. Their "affliction," as she describes it, is that they burst into flames. To keep the twins (and Madison and her senator's carefully curated lives--he's about to run for U.S. president, after all) safe will be Lillian's 24/7 responsibility. But first, she'll need to gain the children's trust.

When it comes to unconventional families, Wilson again proves himself a master of heartstring-tugging, drop-jaw shocking, guffaw-inducing, highly combustible entertainment. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon