Pearl (aka Bean) and Henry are the best of friends. Having grown up as social outcasts in a small town, they have only each other to turn to when times get tough. For Bean and Henry, times are pretty much always tough. As the children of eccentric single mothers, life is often messy and complicated. Bean’s mom spends most of her time hungover and complaining about her father with her best friend Claire. Henry’s mom doesn’t leave the house, afraid that if she goes out, she might miss Henry’s father coming back.
While Henry, Bean, and Henry’s mom are camped out on a sofa watching soap operas for the umpteenth time, Bean receives a phone call that changes everything. Suddenly, they find themselves in a soap opera of their own. The death of Bean’s grandfather opens up a can of worms as family secrets come spilling out–secrets that threaten to destroy some relationships, while bringing others closer together. Bean and Henry find that the adults they thought they knew were much more complex than they ever imagined, that parents and grandparents make mistakes, and that even seemingly good, loving people can do horrible things.
Jo Knowles’ quiet coming of age story is raw and often bleak. Bearing many similarities to Sarah Ockler’s Fixing Delilah, Pearl is about finding yourself in the aftermath of loss. Bean and her mom both have to come to terms with who they are in the absence of their family patriarch. The ties that bond family and friends are frequently tested, forcing the characters to find acceptance of each other, flawed as they all may be. Though stark, subdued, and sometimes slow, Pearl is ultimately an entertaining read for fans of contemporary fiction featuring small towns and family drama.