Artemis by Andy Weir – Book

 

Artemis by Andy Weir is the kind of book you want to read in one bite. It is just so much fun that the word yummy would apply if a book was a meal (which, in a way it is). Andy creates for us the small domed community of Artemis on the Moon. He describes it for us through the eyes of his irreverent narrator, Jas (Jasmine), whose Dad came to the Moon from Saudi Arabia when Jasmine was young. There are several domes, each named after the astronauts who first journeyed to the Moon. There are rich folks on the Moon who live in the nicest spaces in the nicest dome. There are poor folks who live in more crowded spaces in another dome. There are domes where businesses operate. Jasmine’s father is a skilled welder who owns a fairly large work space until Jas, in a teenaged misadventure, burns it down. Fire is one of the most feared elements in Artemis. There is nowhere to run to. Jas owes her father a lot.

Right now Jas has a pretty big chip on her shoulder, constructed of guilt, dumb gumption, immaturity, and ambition. We meet her when she is taking her test to qualify to lead groups of tourists in EVA’s (Extra Vehicular Activities) on the Moon’s surface. We see how her impatience to earn her own way and move out of the space that she is living in, which is described as a coffin, without a private bathroom, lead her to neglect a careful inspection of her EVA suit. She almost dies and, surprise, fails her test. Because her impatience makes her careless, people she has known since childhood are leery of trusting her with much responsibility. This doesn’t sound like fun, but Jas is telling the story and she is full of sarcastic humor and she is indomitable. She is unfazed by her screw-ups. She just resolves to push on to the next adventure.

Jas is not totally alone. She still can rely on her father who loves her, but she tries not to. She has had a longtime pen pal in Kenya. Kenya is in charge of Artemis, the KFC (irony, humor?) and most goods ship to Artemis from Kenya. Jas is a porter who delivers goods from shipments as they arrive. This is how she earns her meager living right now, along with a bit of smuggling. But Jaz wants to be rich. She wants to live in the best dome and have her own luxurious bathroom. So when Tran offers to pay Jas 1 million slugs (credits) to do something very destructive, for what seem to be very good reasons, the whole, almost-fatal comedy of Moony errors ensues. Jas does love Artemis and she loves her father and she enlists the help of some very reluctant friends who obviously care about her. In the end we guess that Jas will finally enter a somewhat calmer adult lifestyle and we learn that not all her ventures have been so convoluted as the one we enjoy in Artemis. She has actually found a niche in Artemis.

I bought a membership in Audible because I planned to start exercising and I wanted to be very efficient with my time. If I could read and exercise at the same time I would be one of those people who make every second of their life count. I am having a problem with Audible, though, because I cannot see the spelling of the character’s names. I don’t like to read any reviews before I write mine so you may see some very creative spelling from me sometimes. The Moon community is home to people from almost every nation on Earth and offers a real challenge to Rosario Dawson who reads the book to us (I can listen on my Alexa). There are lots of accents which help to differentiate characters and add character to whoever is speaking. After a while the accents sound too similar and some accents sound less authentic than others. Still Dawson’s reading is suited to the saga of Jas and Artemis and the accents add another layer of entertainment to this tale, which gives us a sort of Moon thriller, and a tutorial in space science. Science is not usually this much fun (except perhaps in The Big Bang Theory with its clever writers). Andy Weir also reminds us that our flawed human nature will go with us wherever we go.

State of the Union – My Take

 

My take on the State of the Union (“Uniom”) would include concerns that will not be discussed in Trump’s address tonight. It would include my deep chagrin that our oval office is occupied by a man that I always thought of as a con man and a crook (with really poor taste in interior design). Subtlety does not work for DT and neither does elegance. He likes in-your-face, flashy, keep-your-eyes-on-me behavior. He trails chaos.

It is not just our President’s style that I object to; it is the substance of the man, if he can be said to have any. He will tell us tonight about all of the great things he has done, which, for the most part, involve implementations of Republican policies. What he will not talk about is the hoops he has everyone jumping through because he is under investigation for obstruction of justice. He may even be worried that he will be found to have committed criminal acts or treason. While he tells us he did not collude with Russia when they interfered in the 2016 election we cannot escape our feeling that he is innocent on a technicality. He may have made sure that he never directly contacted or met with Russians during his campaign. He may have never even directly ordered his staff or family members on his campaign to meet with Russians for him. But I would guess that he does not have to ask. His people know Trump-coded messaging and they can carry out his bidding without a direct order.

It is unlikely that Trump will talk about how the paranoia that fuels his attacks on the investigative wing of our government will, at the same time, make America less secure. The FBI is not a warm, fuzzy institution. It is not an organization that the American people welcome attracting attention from, unless they are the victim of a crime.

But we accept the FBI as a serious and business-like group of super-detectives and we respect and fear them. Mr. Trump has been exposing the human side of the FBI, the side where they gossip about classified information and possibly let individual politics rule the outcomes of their investigations. He is tarnishing an important body that usually gives aid to Presidents. He fired James Comey and McCabe left without even waiting to qualify for his pension. Trump is good at spreading suspicion, at soiling the reputations of reputable people. What can we conclude except that he must be guilty of some crime he doesn’t want exposed?

The FBI has acted in ways that have hurt its own image also. The two flirters who exchanged emails while working with Mueller to investigate Russian matters added to the mess when their emails became public. Whatever they intended, they gave Trump more fodder for his campaign to tarnish the FBI and cast doubts on that integrity which was always their trademark. He has turned the FBI into a soap opera so that if/when his guilt is exposed he can argue that the methodologies were so flawed that we should disregard anything this body says about him.

The fact that we have a man in our oval office who had his people collude with Russia for him so that he could have deniability will not be discussed in Trump’s State of the Union. The fact that we have a President who we suspect has been friendly with various mafia groups both here and abroad in the pursuit of his smarmy deals is unlikely to be one of the bullet points in tonight’s address.

We will not hear about the constant barrage of revelations that have us smacking our foreheads daily. Forty-five will not regale us with memories of the most transparent lies he has spoken, of his strategy of owning those lies, of repeating them loudly and proudly because once they become part of the public record that record lends them credibility.

Right now we have Devin Nunes, who is supposed to have been removed from the Russia investigation in the House, waving an enticingly secret memo under our noses, implying he has a piece of information that will exonerate the President, indict the Democrats, destroy the FBI, and perhaps even prove that Russia is now our best friend. The Justice Department does not want the memo released but I am guessing if it seems to meet even a tiny portion of the goals Nunes implies that it does we will find it is leaked soon enough. Devin Nunes has become the President’s most passionate and inept defender. I keep thinking we’ve heard the last of him and then there he is again. So far we have learned nothing substantive from Mr. Nunes.

Right now we have the bad taste in or mouths left by the lack of good faith in the bargaining over DACA and CHIP and the government shutdown. That was clearly a setup designed to embarrass the Democrats and confuse Americans about who to blame for the shutdown. It worked because Democratic leaders in Congress came under fire from their own people and lost “face”.

The State of the Union won’t mention that the divisions in America are not being healed but are instead being whipped up into frenzied arguments by Trumpers who refuse to hear any criticism of Mr. Trump. I received an article in my mailbox yesterday that described a hissy fit by one of the co-founders of Home Deport against Democrats because of what Dems see as flaws in the new Republican Tax plan. In fact, the first article I saw said that Democrats would not be allowed to shop at Home Depot (surely a very poor business decision). I heard the rest when I did a fact-check on the story. We understand why Mr. Marcus is happy with the new tax plan, but why does he get so exercised when Democrats disagree with the plan?

We surely will not be regaled with tales of the disarray in Washington, of the State Department veterans being sent to the basement to fulfill FOIA requests, that have never been considered the most important task of a formerly very busy State Department. We won’t expect to hear a cogent explanation of why the State Department is being gutted.

We know there is more, so much more; we are loaded down with daily nonsense. But that nonsense could change our government so much that it will be like that Humpty-Dumpty from our childhood, so broken that we can never put it back together again.

We will hear about how America’s economy is roaring back as a result of Trump’s executive actions overturning regulations on businesses and rules intended to address environmental concerns but we won’t be reminded that government policies always involve conjecture. Governments decide what policies will produce the outcomes they want but there are no guarantees that the future will comply with the predictions. Everyone is guessing about what will bring about the future they wish to see.

Republicans are not even using past practice to help them predict the future. They are still selling “trickle-down economics” which evidence says has never yet produced any appreciable tickle-down. If it did our economy would not have allowed so much wealth to concentrate in the hands of so few. The tax plan Congress just passed sends more money up the chain. Money never comes back down the chain. Why did the Republicans do something that seems so counterproductive? How can an economy come roaring back if you have no consumers except the 1%? Look at the new consumers just beginning to buy in cultures with far larger populations than we have in America. There are few incentives to bring lots of business back to America. Even a 21% corporate tax rate will not counteract a supply chain that moves too far from the marketplace where products actually are bought and sold. None of this will be discussed in tonight’s SOTU address.

I will not be able to listen to the State of the Union address because I might be tempted to throw something at my TV which I cannot really afford to replace at the moment. I will wait and hear the cooler commentary about the speech tomorrow. However, no rosy picture of the current state of America can possible convince me that the policies we are pursuing will benefit the American people, will keep our government intact, or even will coincide with the United States Constitution.

New Feudalism or Enlightened Planet

 

It seemed like we all just got “woke”. Things were looking like they might coalesce into some kind of concerted effort to ensure things like an adequate food supply, plenty of potable water, clean oceans. We seemed to have generated some real interest in being good caretakers of our tiny planet spinning in space at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, soon to be home to 9 billions humans (and as many species as we can keep from extinction). Younger people seem to have some interest in global cooperation, extending human rights – perhaps an evolutionary leap to a more enlightened planet.

Now we suddenly find ourselves in a white nationalist cul de sac which, if it becomes our permanent abode, certainly will put paid to our dreams of global nirvana. Our dual nature, of course, makes global nirvana just about impossible unless they design a drug to tamp down negative human traits (but the side effects would probably be brutal). Doesn’t matter. We have been turned away from that global future into this isolationist cul de sac. Will our sojourn here be brief or long? Will the world join us here or move on without us?

We were on the cusp of the future predicted by or copied from science fiction – except for the tiny hiccups like hating to share our country with people of color, or Muslims, and a weird insistence on doubling down on fossil fuels (that we are pretty sure are harmful to us because they harm this planet we are not able to leave – our lovely home, earth). However there are tendencies towards that still-possible global future developing alongside us as we get steered into that dead end where Trump wants to take us.

Progress in technology is relentless. AI may change everything. Adventurous sorts with money are still trying to reach the stars (Elon Musk, Tesla). We may still end up with cars we don’t have to drive and space elevators. Will these parallel trends save us from revisiting the Dark Ages? Will tech trends interrupt the economic trends that could turn most of us back into serfs.

I find myself awake sometimes in the middle of the night wondering what forms government might take in the future. I guess a brain sometimes wants to be entertained, although I wish it would choose a more opportune hour. But I am a science fiction geek, not so much the new stuff, with exceptions, but the classics, so my mind takes me to the future. I wish my understandings were mathematical, or as an expert in engineering or physics, but beyond comprehending that tesseracts involve dimensions and folding space (which we can’t actually do), I will never be joining any NASA  tech team. (I also know tesseracts, used in this way, are from Margaret L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time, which just became a movie).

My real interest in science fiction is political, sociological – about the mechanics of human organizations in space. Since none of us have been in space (not including the Moon) the writers of science fiction create the ways people behave in space, the governmental structures in space, the wars in space, even the day-to-day activities of humans in space. If/when we go to space will the schema we have placed in our brains limit the kinds of government we can imagine? Maybe.

Isaac Asimov, in the Foundation Trilogy (which ended up as more than a trilogy), depicted an entire universe plunged in a Dark Age with one lonely think tank/foundation of enlightenment hidden in a distant and rarely traveled corner in space. The trilogy tells what happens when the secrecy ends, which is a pitted struggle between, of course, the forces of evil and those of good, or corrupt reactionaries v. insightful progressives. The form of government favored by Asimov in this trilogy involves a sort of mind-meld of all living things into “one harmonious living entity in which all beings and the galaxy itself would be a part.” This is so far from our current cult of the individual as to seem far-fetched and not terribly enticing, although it seemed more beckoning in the Age of Aquarius when these books were widely read. At least it was not simply a rehash of the government types we already knew, but it also involves a mental transformation which is beyond our current capacities. It does coincide with the idea of a more global approach to organizing life on earth in the 21st century.

Frank Herbert fathered the Dune books which had one of the most intricate governmental structures, basically feudal in nature. The Butlerian Jihad had dictated the destruction of computers and machines and robots that “think”, (our suspicions about AI are a recurring theme in sci-fi). Mentats, human “computers” take the place of machines. There are royal families (the Houses), the Spacing Guild, the Bene Gesserit sisters trying to genetically engineer a superhuman male called the Kwisatz Haderach, and the Fremen who control the sandworms that produce spice. There is the spice with all its parallels to our fossil fuels, although with religious overtones. Many feel that the Dune books were so popular because they went along with the environmentalist movement, still a sort of fringy, but hardly new movement, which appointed us as the caretakers of our planet. Although the feudal governments in Dune do coincide with our current moves in the direction of feudalism and a new dark age, that probably was not the real point of the series.

Star Wars gave us the Empire and the Rebellion but as the prequels were added we saw that this was intended to be Democratic government, although so enormous that corruption seemed inevitable – and it was. Star Trek had the Federation and its nemesis the Klingon Empire, a malignant imperialist military state, but we don’t learn much about how the Federation governs beyond the rule that its space peace enforcers should not meddle in other civilizations, a rule that may influence how we would like to conduct ourselves if we ever become a presence in the universe beyond our planet.

We have the systems of governance we have already tried – barter, monarchy, dictatorship, communism, socialism, democracy/republic, social democracy – and perhaps even some examples of anarchy. Every system we try tends to end the same way with plenty of economic inequality and the inability to keep at bay our negative traits. I could go on with my sleepless ruminations about whether or not science fiction may offer us some answers about human government and social structures, but it is just a symptom of my desire to part the curtain of time, to see how we will govern ourselves if we avoid being led into the wilderness and find our way back to global governance, or at least global cooperation. What we might get, if we accomplished this seemingly impossible feat, is a sort of microcosm of how we might interact with each other, or even with alien cultures, in space. And may I say, “yikes”, it doesn’t look like we will ever get the hang of a government framework that provides long-term stability, fairness and peace.

But if we will be sidelined into some grim nightmare of feudalism, of endless work – some nouveau Evangelical ethic which says that if you are not wealthy then you are inferior and you belong to the wealthy. You will be expected to labor, reproduce, get sick, and die. If such a future is where we are headed then I don’t have any desire to take any time machine to see it. I do not want to lose the fine freedoms we have enjoyed in our nation, an ideal of governance which has convinced much of the world to go along with it, and has, so far, been the most promising of any system of government that the human mind has devised on earth.

There may be some better design in the future but let’s not throw our republic away before someone imagines it. If we don’t conquer the issues of wealth inequality, the corruption that big money has bought to our republic, and the reactionary slide of our current politics we could easily descend into a society that turns the poor into slaves or convicts. We fear an Orwellian future or a return of gestapo mentality because we see these tendencies on the rise, and shockingly, it looks like America may go there first. No wonder I am having nightmares. Aren’t you?

Dems Have No Power

As things stand right now, Dems have no power. Not only did they lose the 2016 election, they lost the House and the Senate. For the past year Republicans – operating under Reconciliation rules (simple majority to pass anything) – did not need the Dems and the Democrats were not welcome. They were not consulted on Health Care (“Better Care”) on the tax package, or on anything. These things were hammered out in Republican-only closed meetings, the bills were kept secret until almost time to vote on them. Now suddenly the Republicans are back under regular rules where they need 60 votes. They don’t have 60 votes. They need Democrats. You would think they would make nice with the Dems (who disagree with almost every stated GOP policy). But the Republicans were the winners, and they refuse to give in the Democrats even on small things. The Democrats have no choice but to hang tough – to not blink. They could not represent their constituents and also keep the government open. Trump and the GOP put the Dems between a rock and a hard place. Their playbook is slim. They used the only play they have.

Perhaps the GOP will be successful in wiping out the Democrats and creating a one-party government but they have had to resort to using children and young adults as hostages to try to force Dems to accept pills that are bitter to them. The Republicans don’t even want to renew DACA or pass CHIP so their whole deal is disingenuous to begin with. The Republicans will not be kind to “we the people”. If the Dems are destroyed, America as we know it is destroyed.

The Republicans did not win in 2016 without cheating and trickery. The Republican coup. – well-planned in Conservative think tanks and “foundations” – used very effective but bloodless weapons to “steal” the American government. They passed laws that allowed them to funnel unmatchable dollars, from the Koch brothers and other millionaires and billionaires at the center of the Conservative web, to buy elections and sway opinions with advertising blitzes. And they did this at all levels – national, state, and right down to local districts and precincts (and they are still doing it).

They had their own media turning some Americans into Republican “pod” people, a reference to the old movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, although in this case it was minds that got snatched. They are still buying up media outlets. They had talking points that were repeated so often we all have them memorized. The had and still have rabidly inflexible gatekeepers enforcing the no-raised-taxes pledge and their 2nd Amendment insanity. They were, and still are, collecting state governments and even using ALEC to write laws they favored, which were passed verbatim in state legislatures.

They had a Supreme Court that was not quite as packed as they would have liked but which still often skewed right. They kept beating the baby-murderer drum to keep anti-abortionists riled up. They overturned a key section of the Voter Rights Act so they could suppress Dem votes. They used extreme gerrymandering to suppress Dem votes. They tried to pass voter ID laws and “clean up” voter rolls. They created a false meme about widespread voter fraud.

And finally, they accepted a partnership with the most flawed President ever, a bully to boot, and they besmirched their party to take over the US government. (I wrote a book about this although I did not foresee Trump– http://notabene718.com – The US Republican Constitution). Perhaps you heard Paul Ryan proudly announce the US Republican Government when the 115th Congress convened.

But Republicans may have made a deal with the devil and allowed Russia to interfere in the very election they worked so hard to win and they may be in bed with mafia/s. They will never know if their coup would have succeeded because it got Trump-ed.

So how on earth would Dems win one fight for any policy important to their constituents, when the Republicans control our government, without using their tiny edge – that Republicans in the Senate don’t have enough votes to win except where a simple majority will suffice. Democrats must use this tiny wedge or simply give in to the GOP agenda. The GOP agenda, however, is backwards and stingy. If the Democrats give up without a fight America loses a stake in the future of our world and perhaps there will be no democratic ideal, no human rights left, only greed and theft, ignorance and lots of work. (The Democrats also have this.)

Grant by Ron Chernow – Book

 

Grant by Ron Chernow is not a book; it is tome. He writes a very contemporary biography of Ulysses S. Grant, perhaps unclouded by the political passions and machinations of the 19th century. We often hear more that is negative about Grant than what was positive. We hear he was often drunk, that he headed one of the most corrupt governments in our history, that he was a gullible and simple man, without social graces or persuasive public speaking abilities. Writers in the past accepted, for the most part, that Grant had strong military successes, but opinions of his abilities range from a lazy leader to a military savant (which Chernow feels is much closer to the truth).

Prior to the Civil War, America was experiencing a time of great divisiveness (perhaps even worse that what we are seeing in the 21st century). Slavery and state’s rights were the issues that most passionately divided the nation (and they still are 151 years later). Strong abolitionist movements in the northern states enraged the South whose lifestyle and economy revolved around slave labor. The South claimed that the Federal government had no right to make laws in this matter. The verbal battles were bitter and the differences irreconcilable. Whatever you may feel is the reason for the Civil War (the GOP still cites the state’s rights issue; while Dems tend to cite the issue of keeping human beings as slaves), Grant evolved on the issue of slavery until he came to believe that it was an anathema and absolutely the point of the war. The Union considered the South to be traitors who wanted to dissolve the Republic. Although it may drive you crazy, you need to remember that in the 19th century Southerners were the Democrats and the abolitionists were Republicans.

Chernow does not sidestep graphic descriptions of the terrible tragedy of human destruction left in the wake of every victory and every defeat in the brutal Civil War. Grant, who seemed unable to be a successful businessman, proved to have a genius for warfare, a focus that seemed to appear only when battle loomed, and a broad and long view of the overall geography, scope, and strategy involved in any given battle. Since Grant was educated at West Point, he knew many of the officers on both sides in the Civil War and he had personal insight into how they would behave. Try not to read about these battles while eating.

I can never cover all of the information imparted in this biography. It is minutely comprehensive and still, somehow, eminently readable. It is long but well worth the investment in time. What I appreciated most about Ron Chernow’s tome is the attention he gave to what happened in the South after the war. Perhaps Grant was too sympathetic to the officers and men when the war ended at Appomattox. He did nothing to humiliate them. He let them lay down their weapons and leave without persecution to go home to their land and families. But perhaps this allowed the South to keep too much of its pride and they secretly kept alive the resentments that had caused the rift to begin with. Chernow does not skirt the details of the ways Southern slave owners took out their anger on freed Americans of African Descent.

According to Chernow and his exhaustive research Ku Klux Klan activity was far more prevalent and deadly in those years of Reconstruction than represented in the stories we tell ourselves today (and in our school history classes). Current events teach us that those feelings kept alive in the South and imported to the North still inform our politics, and the feelings of white supremacy that seem to have been resurrected, but which never actually left us. Grant earned the lasting respect of black folks by sending troops to try to stop the carnage and the total unwillingness of slave owners to accept the freedom of their former slaves. He supported programs to educate former slaves and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were passed while he was President. Frederick Douglas remained a loyal acquaintance of Grant and expressed his gratitude again and again for the support Grant provided to back up freedom for all Americans. If Grant accomplished nothing else, what he accomplished in the arena of freedom and equality for formerly enslaved Americans should move him far above the rank he held until now in the pantheon of American presidents. He deplored the fact that Reconstruction did not end racial hatred in Southern whites.

Mr. Chernow does not buy the tales that make drunkenness a key trait in Grant’s life. He finds a pattern to Grant’s binges and gives him credit for fighting against the hold alcohol had for him when he was without the comforts of his family (as soldiers often are). He admits that Grant was connected to a number of corrupt schemes while he was President and later when he resided in NYC. But if you follow the money you find that Grant never was at all corrupt himself. He was guilty of being unable to see through people, especially when they were friends. Since many people had been his fellow soldiers he tended to give them credit for being loyal friends when they were actually involved in collecting payoffs in scams such as the whisky ring, and the Indian ring, and other scandals of the Gilded Age. Juicy, interesting, and deplorable stuff. Many government rules were different than they are today and corruption was easy if you valued money over morals. Probably a number of rules and protections in our current government were passed to fight the human impulse to corruption which exists, of course, to this day.

It’s a wonderful biography, well researched and full of quotes from primary sources and although it may put a crimp in your accounting of the number of books you get to read this year it will offer such in-depth quality that you will not mind the hit you take in terms of the quantity of books you get to read.

 

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – Book

Celeste Ng writes about families. In her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, one of her characters, the family’s oldest child Lydia, who is found dead in a lake, takes us on an exploration of the dynamics in her mixed race (white mom “Oriental” dad) family. In her second book, Little Fires Everywhere Ng introduces us to two modern families, one that may look like a classic nuclear family (except for the fact that their house is on fire), and another that looks like anything but. In this second book we focus, in flashback, on Elena Richardson, her husband and their four children (Lexi, Tripp, Moody and Izzy). Elena is a mom who never realized her dream to be a famous journalist, a mom who may think that she limited her future by settling down and putting her family first and her journalistic goals second. But it is quite possible that it is her inability to untie herself geographically from the Shaker Heights neighborhood into which she was born (where the author also was born) that kept her in a position on the local paper instead of in a big city news room. Elena loves Shaker Heights because it is a neighborhood founded on principles of security and stability and community involvement that she finds comforting.

Elena is not a real hands-on mom, but her sort of distracted style seems to suit her first two children, at least until the decisions of puberty begin to challenge their judgment. Her style does not suit her two younger children quite as well, and, in fact, put her at odds with her youngest daughter Izzy, an impulsive and creative child who needs affection and approval, as opposed to the disapproval and dismissal she experiences from her mom. Izzy does not take her mom’s tempers and slights quietly as her brother Moody does; she acts out to make sure she gets attention, even if that attention is mostly negative.

When Mia Warren enters the lives of this geographically planted family she brings with her a whiff of a sort of gypsy existence, and she brings her daughter, Pearl, the fortunate recipient of her seemingly effortless warmth and affection. Elena hires Mia to help in the morning and cook dinners in the evening, and Elena’s children bask in the parental interest exhibited by Mia, while Pearl longs for the geographical stability of the Richardson family. Mia and Pearl have moved too many times, but this time Mia promised Pearl she would stay put. Eventually Elena becomes jealous of the attractions between her children and Mia. She sees a clue in a photograph in a museum, a photo of Mia with a baby and she uses journalistic research techniques, and resources she has not needed for years, to investigate Mia and to expose her secrets. Why does Mia seem to have no roots – a burning question to a woman to whom roots have seemed all important? Is Mia someone who could be a danger to Elena’s children?

We, as readers, also understand that Mia has a secret in her past and that even Pearl does not know what that secret is. We find Mia likeable but we don’t totally trust our judgment which is based on too little information. We don’t think her secret could be anything terribly bad, but we don’t know. Elena Richardson earns our censure for invading Mia’s life and our gratitude because she unlocks the secrets that Mia guards so carefully. Mia also gave up what could have been a successful career for her daughter but until we get the facts we are not sure why. (Can’t tell you.)

There is another story within this story about an Asian immigrant mom, befriended by Mia, who loses her job just after the birth of her baby. Since the father has bowed out of the relationship the mom, Bebe Chow, finds she cannot care for her baby. She leaves her at the local fire station. The baby is subsequently given to a long-time childless couple, friends of Elena Richardson and her husband. When Bebe gets a new job, she tries to get her child back and finds she must fight this affluent and loving couple in court. (Interesting note about Audible, it encourages creative spelling of characters’ names.)

We are asked to think about what makes someone a parent. Is blood stronger than any other bond? Are children ever born to the wrong parents? Should children sometimes get to pick their own parents? We see the supportive relationship that has developed between Mia and Izzy. What happens in this relationship is one event in this book that raises many questions in our minds and hearts, but I would spoil the book for you if I discussed it here. (Moody’s role in the family is another matter that we continue to contemplate after finishing Ng’s book.) I did find that I liked Celeste Ng’s second book, Little Fires Everywhere, better than her first one.