Don’t Look Away from ‘Nothing to See Here’

Okay, so.

There are these kids, and when they get upset, they light on fire. Like, literal fire. And a woefully inadequate stand-in for Mary Poppins has to figure out how to control it. Also, it’s really funny and kind of touching.

That’s it. That’s the book.

I was pretty sure when I started Nothing to See Here that I would like it, because just look at that premise. How can you go wrong with that? Not only did I like it, I immediately recommended it to honestly everyone I talk to on a regular basis. My husband. My mom. Both of my sisters. My mother-in-law. That friend I recommended Wilder Girls to and she didn’t like it so she probably doesn’t actually want to take me up on any other book recommendations but tough beans, C. Every single person in my writing group. Not my brother because he doesn’t like reading all that much, but I still considered it. So suffice to say, I loved this book. I could leave it there but that would make this a short post and I wouldn’t get to say why I liked it so much.

Lillian is a 28-year-old screw-up, basically. In high school, she showed promise that could have launched her far beyond her low-class upbringing but a deal with her bff Madison’s dad to take the fall for drugs found in Madison’s things sent Lillian on a spiral that she never recovered from. But when Madison calls asking for help, Lillian can’t say no. She can’t say no, either, to the job Madison is asking her to do: take care of her husband’s two children from a previous marriage. There’s a catch: Madison’s husband, Jasper, is in line to become Secretary of State and can’t have any hint of bad press that could disrupt his political career. There’s another catch: the kids, 10-year-old Bessie and Rowland, catch on literal fire when they’re upset.

Madison sets Lillian up in a recently renovated “guest house” (read: converted slave quarters) and the help of another employee to wrangle the children. Almost immediately, there are sparks – figurative and literal. In addition to lighting on fire, the children have a penchant for biting and running away. They find mischief at every turn and have a near-pathological need for attention. When Jasper returns and keeps them at arm’s length, things get worse, but Lillian is determined to find a way to keep the kids happy and more or less not on fire.

There’s no way I can give an unbiased review of this book after how much I loved it. Yes, the ending is a little trite, and yes, I guess it could be a stretch that Lillian would still blindly follow Madison’s bidding, but those are tiny things in the broader scope of this delightful book. The concept is bizarre and the prose is lovely and the characters are funny and I found myself genuinely caring about them. I loved seeing Lillian grow up, basically, as she tries to care for beings less capable of keeping their crap together than she is. I loved seeing how even within a system where the power dynamic only works one way how rare and valuable sincerity is. I think a lot of people think of themselves as screwups, at least every once in a while (I know I do, most of the time), and when I read Nothing to See Here, I felt like I was among friends. And based on this interview with author Kevin Wilson, I think he felt the same way.

Nothing to See Here
(but you should definitely still look)

I’m not a huge audiobook person, because I also listen to a lot of podcasts and music and my ears do need a break sometimes, but this happened to be available through my digital library as an audiobook and I have subsequently recommended it to people as an audiobook. The story is set in Tennessee and the audiobook performer, Marin Ireland, gives each character a distinct voice—and a charming Southern accent. I have never been to the South. I have no way of knowing if these accents are regionally accurate. But you know what? I don’t care. They made the story even more fun for me.

I have nothing more to add that I didn’t already cover in some fashion in the beginning. This is a fun book. This is a heartfelt book. This is a book to make you feel less alone. And in a time where it feels like everything else is on fire, that’s a really nice thing to have.

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