Synopses & Reviews
Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a weekly roll in the hay with her husband, every Tuesday at 9pm.
They all raise their kids in the kind of sleepy American suburb where nothing ever seems to happen-at least until one eventful summer, when a convicted child molester moves back to town, and two restless parents begin an affair that goes further than either of them could have imagined. Unexpectedly suspenseful, but written with all the fluency and dark humor of Perrotta's previous novels, Little Children exposes the adult dramas unfolding amidst the swingsets and slides of an ordinary American playground.
"[An] intelligent, absorbing tale....Once again, [Perrotta] proves himself an expert at exploring the roiling psychological depths beneath the placid surface of suburbia." Publishers Weekly
"[A] complex, fast-moving plot....An accomplished comic novelist extends his range brilliantly. Perrotta's best." Kirkus Reviews
"[W]armly humorous prose....Perrotta, with a light but sure hand, expertly sketches the angst of the playground set and then amps up his material with a subplot involving a child molester. A fast-reading, wholly engaging novel." Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
"[S]earing, compulsively readable....Combining rueful wit with a wonderfully creepy sense of foreboding, Little Children feels like what you might get if Nick Hornby collaborated with David Lynch." Newsday
"Little Children, like all Perrotta's work, is a virtuoso set of overlapping character studies....[A] greatly auspicious and instructive encounter with the dread world of maturity." Chris Lehmann, The Washington Post Book World
"Mr. Perrotta is too generous a writer to trivialize [his characters' yearnings]. What distinguishes Little Children from run-of-the-mill suburban satire is its knowing blend of slyness and compassion." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Perrotta's poignant and unflinching prose skillfully evokes both sympathy for his characters and disdain for the convenience they have chosen." Library Journal
"Perrotta has been likened to an American Nick Hornby. With Little Children, he solidifies his reputation as a top comic novelist, and becomes something more, one of the most talented chroniclers of American suburban family in the new millennium." Hartford Courant
"The eponymous children in this satirical novel are actually adults who, chafing at the burdens of parenthood, try to re-create their unencumbered youth...The humor is sometimes cruel, but Perrotta never betrays the complexity of his characters." The New Yorker
"Perrotta's most ambitious book...it marks a leap for Perrotta, a suggestion that there may be bigger books inside him. It is also that rarity, a book that understands the mature wisdom of compromise without denying any of the accompanying melancholy." Charles Taylor, Salon.com
"Perrotta wisely refuses to condescend to the world he satirizes, and his masterful perspective provides the reader with a breezy omniscience over the character's failures in life....[A] brave novel...engrossing, compassionate." Esquire Magazine
"[A] generous serving of laugh-out-loud moments....Perrotta knows the white-picket fence dream is just that. Life is disappointing, sure, but a little bit of breezily sardonic humor goes a long way to ease the pain." USA Today
"[A] story that is timeless and placeless yet rock-solid in its appeal. With easy flowing, uncomplicated prose and a keen ear for dialogue, he has added another layer to what is becoming an impressive and durable body of work." Boston Herald
"For all its surface appeal and adroit cultural references, Little Children is a novel about time and the way it catches everyone, whether they are running or standing still....[It] is a book that will stand the test of time." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"To detail the plot is to diminish its pleasures. Perrotta's scenes sneak up on you. He primes you to expect the worst and then delivers something more credible and amusing, developing his characters' emotions in potent and surprising ways." Los Angeles Times
"Tom Perrotta...is like an American Nick Hornby: companionable and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching." Newsweek
"[A] thread of moral fatalism may be more disturbing than any of the other really disturbing things in this novel. The precision of Perrotta's assault on domestic hypocrisy is frightening, to be sure. And if good satire can generate a corrective jolt, this may be a deadly shock." Ron Charles, Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire Christian Science Monitor review
Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the Internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a weekly roll in the hay with her husband, every Tuesday at 9pm.
They all raise their kids in the kind of sleepy American suburb where nothing ever seems to happen at least until one eventful summer, when a convicted child molester moves back to town, and two restless parents begin an affair that goes further than either of them could have imagined. Unexpectedly suspenseful, but written with all the fluency and dark humor of Perrotta's previous novels, Little Children exposes the adult dramas unfolding amidst the swingsets and slides of an ordinary American playground.
About the Author
is the author of Bad Haircut
, The Wishbones
and Joe College
. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Reading Group Guide
1. Compare Mary Ann and Sarah. What do they have in common? Discuss how each mother interacts with her child and how each womans mothering style would work in the real world.
2. What role do sports - skateboarding and football - play in the novel and, in particular, in Todds life? Even though Todd is a primary caregiver, he still seems to find free time; what outlet does Sarah have? How can the portrayal of Sarah and Todd be extended to the role of women versus men in society, and does the book do a fair job in representing the two genders?
3. Very few criminals in our culture are more vilified than pedophiles. What do you make of the portrayal of Ronnie McGorvey? Is he a uniquely evil character in the novel, or is he more similar to some of the other characters than they would like to admit? Is he treated fairly by the people in the town?
4. When Sarah and Mary Ann argue about Madame Bovary at the book group, what are they really arguing about? How do Sarahs and Mary Anns personalities color their arguments about Madame Bovary?
5. Consider Richard and Sarahs marriage: how could two people who are apparently incompatible end up together, and at what point should their unhappiness with their marriage outweigh the commitment they have made to each other and to their child? How harmful is each betrayal to their marriage: Sarahs relationship with Todd, and Richards obsession with Kay? What would you do in each of their situations?
6. Clearly both Sarah and Todd had delusions about the nature of their relationship; what did each truly expect from the other and how were these expectations met/broken? Were each characters expectations realistic? Were you surprised and/or disappointed by the ending?
7. Which characters do you empathize most with in the novel, and why? Which characters are the least sympathetic? Do your sympathies/empathies shift over course of the novel, and if so, how did the ending change your opinion of the various main characters?
8. What do you make of the motley gathering in the playground at the end of the novel - with Mary Ann, Sarah, Larry Moon, and McGorvey?
9. Is Little Children an appropriate or deceptive title for this novel? What are the different ways the phrase is employed within the book? To what characters does it best apply? In the end, is the title simply descriptive, or does it work on multiple levels?
10. A critic has suggested that “all the noncriminal [characters] in this story are better off in the end than they were at the start.” Is this true? Can you think of any exceptions?
11. Critics have differed a great deal in characterizing the tone of the novel. One called it a “gentle satire,” while another claimed that “Perrotta has moved into the suburbs with a wrecking ball.” Which critic do you agree with? How do you account for this discrepancy in these descriptions?