Sibling love can quickly flip to sibling rivalry. Even hate.
Sisters Bee and Audrina Kocsis are very different. Studious, smart, and plain, Bee must constantly fight for the attention that comes naturally to the younger Audrina who lights up every room she enters. While the girls’ parents profess to love their daughters equally, Bee is quick to pick up on any word or gesture that favors Audrina. There are their names. Audrina’s name is beautiful and musical, while Bee’s, Borka, after her father’s dead Hungarian aunt, is “hideous.” On Christmas, Audrina receives a gold charm bracelet, while Bee gets a New York Yankee jersey with Don Mattingly’s number 23. “He’s a lefty, like you,” her mother explains. Bee, however, hates baseball and covets Audrina’s bracelet.
A hot sweltering day in July,1985, is the perfect time to visit nearby Deer Chase Lake. Bee and Audrina are joined by Max Baker and his little sister Sally who, along with their parents, moved in across the street. But the day starts out on a sour note when Bee notices Sally wearing Audrina’s gold bracelet. After Sally goes missing at the beach, Bee finds part of the gold bracelet in the sand. Rather than give the evidence to the police, she hides it, possibly sending the search team off in the wrong direction.
Karen Winn (Photo credit: Christopher J. Gaffney)
We know right from the beginning of Karen Winn’s Our Little World, that Audrina will die. Having that information fuels our imagination. As the tension between the two sisters intensifies, we wonder not only if Bee will murder her sister, but if she’s also responsible for Sally’s disappearance.
While Sally’s brother, traumatized by his sister’s disappearance, becomes quiet and withdrawn, Bee enjoys the attention she receives as the witness to a crime. The popular clique, led by the queen bee Hope, besieges Bee with questions about Sally’s disappearance. Soon, Bee is accepted into their group, ignoring her longtime friend, Leah.
Finding new friends, however, doesn’t make Bee’s life any better, at home or at school. Audrina continues to dominate the family environment. While Bee brings home straight A’s, her academic achievement pales in comparison to Audrina’s star role in Peter Pan. Bee copes with her depression by pulling out her hair, a condition known as trichotillmania, living in constant fear that her mother will discover what she’s doing. Bee longs to be with Max, but his grief over losing his sister keeps him isolated. As the days pass, there’s little chance that Sally wandered away from the lake and will be found alive. Imagining her dead, however, is too horrible for Bee and Audrina to imagine.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Mrs. Baker was at the beach with the children that day. Why wasn’t she watching four year-old Sally? Although there were people on the beach, no one comes forward with any information that can help. The police are regarded as inept, particularly a young officer, Jimmy, who is inexperienced and preoccupied with caring for his aging mother. Those closest to the tragedy suffer the most, with Max’s parent’s marriage falling apart. Bee’s father visits Mrs. Baker frequently, ostensibly to handle repairs. But when Bee witnesses them embracing, she fears they are having an affair.
A tragedy experienced by one family has a way to ripple out into the community, touching many others. Bee and her family, struggling to find their footing after Sally’s disappearance, are soon facing a tragedy of their own.
Winn’s novel resonates on many levels, but what note it truly sounds involves sibling relationships. Sharing the same parents, the same home, and, possibly, the same genes, doesn’t always guarantee the same memories or feelings about childhood. This novel is sure to spark some discussions come that next holiday gathering.
Our Little World
Top photo: Bigstock