In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.
One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.
Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?
But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.
Harkening to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, The Party takes us behind the façade of the picture-perfect family, exposing the lies, betrayals, and moral lapses that neighbors don’t see—and the secrets that children and parents keep from themselves and each other. (Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)
I had a hard time reading The Party, but for all the right reasons. So much of it hit very close to home for me, not only on a personal level but on a nostalgic level as well. There were many times in my own childhood where I strayed from the persona that had been created of me, the girl who had “a good head on her shoulders”. I could totally relate with Hannah on that front. And, just like Hannah, there were moments that would forever change the course of my life and other lives around me, more than I could have ever imagined.
I have two sons, one who is on the brink of teenagedom. I am fully aware of what’s potentially in store for him, the sort of peer pressures he may face. Reading through Hannah’s experiences, as well as what her friends and others in her circle go through, I couldn’t help but feel for all of them, even the ones who seem hell-bent on self-destructing and taking everyone else down with them. I hope I can help prevent similar situations from ever entering my son’s world.
Intricately woven within the pages of Party is the fallout when dealing with those who choose to bully, not only the children but the adults as well. It was amazing how the characters became mirror images of one another, the hypocrisy strong, human emotions very real and relatable. I felt my beliefs sway from one side to another while seeing both sides of the coin for Kim and everyone else in this story. At times the children were the teachers, the parents in need of important lessons, then there were other moments where no one seemed to know what to do or how to proceed to move on from a tragedy. So true to how life can be. Party was a great read, and totally worthy of the five stars I’ve given it.
My kids are still pretty young, but I think about what they’ll be like as teenagers (especially since one is now a pre-teen) and shudder. And after reading The Party, I want to freeze time so that my kids NEVER become teenagers. It’s terrifying what teens get up to these days, between alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, etc. All of this is reflected throughout the novel.
With The Party, Robyn Harding asks the question: “When something bad happens, who is really at fault?” In some ways, this reminded me of Karma Brown’s latest novel, In This Moment, where a tragic situation happened and the main character felt responsible. This time around, an accident happens in a family’s home, and the blame is shifted to the parents hosting the party, even though the mother (Kim) laid down strict rules at the beginning. How much of this is her responsibility? And how about her husband, who may have had a hand in what happened?
What I found intriguing about this story was that no one was particularly likable. Even Kim, who was supposedly the protagonist, had this goody-goody attitude, even when she wasn’t so perfect. I understand wanting to keep kids safe and out of trouble, but sometimes the more restrictive you are, the more they will want to test their limits. This worries me for when my kids become teenagers. I can tell them all about the horrors of drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. until my face turns blue, and they might still experiment under peer pressure. *Shudder* However, I also don’t think Kim and/or Jeff should have gone to sleep while they had teenagers staying in their basement. Especially since Kim thought some of them were bad influences. They could have taken shifts to keep watch on the house and checked in from time to time. Then again, that could have made their daughter (Hannah) hate them for embarrassing her. What’s a parent to do?!?
I like that the story was told from multiple perspectives. It had a train wreck effect, in that I had to keep reading to see what would happen next, and yet all these bad things kept tumbling over each other. No one could really win, per se. It made me think of the 1999 movie Election, where Matthew Broderick’s character’s life keeps spiraling out of control, all because of his efforts to keep Reese Witherspoon’s character from becoming class president. The Party had a Desperate Housewives feel in some ways, but was definitely more intense. Some aspects reminded me of 13 Reasons Why (just from what I’ve seen of the TV series so far).
I applaud Robyn Harding’s storytelling skills. This novel is well-written and easy to get into right away, and stay captivated throughout. (It also made me glad that high school was long ago enough for me that the Internet wasn’t prevalent yet.)
And of course, I was casting the movie version in my head! (It could work as a TV series too.)
Kim: Kimberly Williams-Paisley
Jeff: Johnathon Schaech
Hannah: Jordyn Negri
Lisa: Judy Greer
Ronni: Amanda Pace
Lauren: Morgan Lily
Tony: James Franco
Originally reviewed for Chick Lit Central