Perfect Little Children: A Novel

  • By Sophie Hannah
  • William Morrow
  • 336 pp.

After a long estrangement, a woman comes face-to-face with her former best friend…who hasn’t aged a day.

When you haven’t seen friends for a long time, it’s easy to remember their children as the same age you knew them years before. But when Beth Leeson sees her former best friend, Flora Braid, after 12 years apart, she’s shocked that Flora’s kids haven’t aged a day. Can time stand still? In Perfect Little Children, author Sophie Hannah asks that question as she stretches the boundaries of our imagination.

When Beth takes her son to his soccer game in Cambridgeshire, she can’t help but wonder about Flora and Lewis Braid, who’d moved there over a decade ago. Flora had been Beth’s best friend. But when Lewis inherited money, and they bought a large home — Newnham House on prestigious Wyddial Lane — Beth didn’t see or hear from Flora again.

As Beth watches the Braids’ home, a car drives through the gate. She is gob-smacked when Flora gets out with two young children who look the same as Flora’s children did 12 years ago, at ages 3 and 5; they’re even wearing clothes Beth recognizes. Flora calls them by name — Emily and Thomas — the same names Beth had uttered a thousand times during family gatherings and play dates. But where was Flora’s third child, Georgina?

The end of their friendship had been painful for Beth. She assumed Flora simply wanted to leave her old life behind when they moved up in the world. Beth doesn’t want to relive past hurts, but she can’t let go of what she sees.

Is she losing her mind? Flora’s kids should be teenagers now, like Beth’s own children. Beth’s husband, Dom, thinks she just made a mistake in what she saw, but her daughter agrees she should investigate. Beth can’t shake the feeling that Flora may be in trouble.

After researching online and hoping to make sense of what she realizes is an absurd situation, Beth returns to Newnham House, where she twice overhears Flora repeat, “I am lucky, very lucky.”

Perfect Little Children explores how the ties that bind can sometimes fray. Loss, envy, and change in social status can alter the way we relate to friends we’ve had forever. Beth and Flora never discussed their abrupt estrangement. If they had, would they have remained devoted to each other? When is it prudent to let a friendship go? When is it imperative to fight for it?

The author also challenges readers to consider how families are ever-evolving. Parents don’t want their children to grow up. What if a desperate parent were given the chance for a redo, an opportunity to relive the days when their kids were small? What if we could prevent the hands on the clock from moving and, instead, keep our children young forever?

In her usual fashion, Sophie Hannah begins with an intriguing, bizarre plot, then masterfully spins a story of twists and turns. She plays with our imagination, making us wonder if the passing of time tricks our minds into seeing things that aren’t there. Readers will quickly turn the pages of Perfect Little Children to discover whether those things really are there.

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Find her on Twitter at @klromo.

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