If you’re a parent, you know the feeling: You’re with your child in a grocery store, or restaurant, or theater, or airplane, and they pitch a fit so sudden and volcanic, you worry they might spontaneously combust, right there on the spot. You imagine them aflame, fueled only by rage, destroying everything in their path – the epic meltdown.
That metaphor fuels Kevin Wilson’s quirky new novel, “Nothing to See Here.” It’s the story of two boarding school friends, Lillian and Madison, who part ways as teens but reunite as adults. Madison, a spoiled rich girl now married to a U.S. senator from Tennessee, asks Lillian to serve as governess for her husband’s children from a previous marriage. But the 10-year-old twins, Bessie and Roland, pose a most unusual challenge: They catch fire – literally – whenever they’re angry or upset. Madison needs her old friend to carefully and discretely supervise the twins through the summer, while she and her buttoned-up politician husband figure out what to do.
“This is weird, Madison,” Lillian tells her. “You want me to raise your husband’s fire children.”
The novel’s bizarre premise gives way quickly to a surprisingly real, eerily beautiful story of love, friendship, loyalty and courage. Lillian is a funny and engaging narrator, a 28-year-old oddball who loves to shoot hoops and eat junk food, and she becomes an excellent guardian despite her nearly crippling self-doubt. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Broadway actress Marin Ireland, and her impeccable timing and array of character voices really captured the story’s humanity. Lillian’s struggles are laugh-out-loud funny one minute, sweetly poignant the next, as she learns to navigate the rough waters of child-rearing.
Wilson’s novel definitely falls into the “wacky, dysfunctional family” genre – one of my favorites. But its raucous humor, charming characters and enormous heart leave you feeling warm inside.