HarperCollins, 277 pages, $26.99
I read a review that said “Nothing to See Here” was about children bursting into flame. Maybe there’s a mystery story in there, I thought, or a horror story, à la Stephen King. On the cover was my first warning that the book wouldn’t be what I thought it was going to be. The author Jacqueline Woodson’s blurb was on there. “Laugh-out-loud funny,” it said. I rarely laugh at books that are introduced as “laugh-out-loud funny.” The expectation is too high, so my sense of humor goes into hibernation. I sometimes laugh at slapstick. I sometimes laugh at quirky humor, and that is the category in which I would place “Nothing to See Here.” But I did not laugh at this book — although I smiled a couple of times. I laugh out loud (even while all by myself) mostly at unexpected humor. The first time I read a Janet Evanovich book — in that case, “One for the Money” — I laughed out loud quite a few times. Stephanie Plum was unexpected.
“Nothing to See Here” turned out not to be a mystery or even a novel involving any sort of crime. I finished the book anyway, because it was interesting. I found Lillian, the lost-in-place woman who has a punk vibe, compelling. She was lured into taking care of her ex-best friend’s stepchildren, the aforementioned children who burst into flame.
I’m not sure what made Jacqueline Woodson laugh so much, because I found it to be mostly a poignant, sad tale of two children who know they are not wanted. But wait, don’t turn away from reading it because of that description. Dysfunctional Lillian, who knows nothing about children, is there to help. Or maybe she just wants to drink margaritas and play very competitive basketball with her ex-best friend, Madison.
Despite the fact that there was no mystery to see here, I enjoyed Kevin Wilson’s writing. I loved Lillian. I loved the hapless children who caught fire. Best wishes to them. I hope their fictional lives will end happily somewhere, sometime.