OUR LITTLE WORLD
By: Karen Winn
Published: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Dutton Books
A bit of coming-of-age and a bit of mystery combine in this novel that begins in the summer of 1985. Told from the perspective of Borka or “Bee”, as she prefers to be called, and the oldest sister to the beautiful, popular, and lovable Audrina, Bee reflects back on the summer that changed everything for her family. Tragedy strikes during a typical summer day at the lake with their neighbors the Bakers. The youngest Baker sister, Sally, goes missing. The idyllic New Jersey summer of 1985 changed the lives of Bee and Audrina forever. As Bee looks back on the years 1985-1986, she remembers the angst of being a teenager, the complicated relationship with her sister, and the secrets from that time that almost tore their family apart.
“It was a few seconds and it was a few hours and it was the rest of our lives.”OUR LITTLE WORLD, Karen Winn
The first sentence tells the reader that Audrina and Sally die. But, it takes nearly the whole story to find out what happens to them. As we follow Bee and Audrina growing up in the close-knit New Jersey community, we know in the back of our minds that something terrible is going to happen. We witness the fights and hurtful words between two sisters and hope that those aren’t the last words said to each other. Those of us with sisters or siblings understand the friction, the annoyances, and the regrets in managing those relationships. As they try to overcome the summer that Sally went missing, never being left alone or free to roam outside, Bee remembers the summer that she became the closest to her sister.
“Was a family room still a family room when your family no longer existed?”OUR LITTLE WORLD, Karen Winn
It was precious to read a story set in the 1980s, a time frame that I grew up in while remembering life before cell phones and social media. A time when we only had a landline and corded phones to talk to our friends. I remember the fear of Adam Walsh going missing and seeing a child’s face on a milk carton. What happened to those kids and what happened to Sally Baker? The Kocsis and Baker families can’t bear to imagine the worst, but after a year, how could she still be alive?
“Accidents were spilled drinks and items you knock over when you brush too closely against a table and the time Audrina crashed her bike. Accidents were not this. Accidents were not death.”OUR LITTLE WORLD, Karen Winn
There are numerous family issues in the story as well including infidelity, alcoholism, secrets, and betrayal. Can any family recover from the events during the summer of 1985? For a first-time novelist, I thought the pacing of the story was particularly well done. The voice of teen Bee and adult Bee were authentic and the feelings Bee struggled with were easy to identify with. What child doesn’t want to keep a secret that might get her in trouble? What child doesn’t play out the pros and cons of any situation, wondering what her next move should be regarding boys, friendships, and especially when dealing with family secrets?
If you like family stories, sister stories (one of my favorites), a mystery, or coming-of-age, this novel has all these qualities. I was impressed with the story and find myself thinking of Bee quite often. I hope there is more to come from Karen Winn in the future.
Karen Winn received her MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She also holds a doctoral degree in nursing. Born and raised in New Jersey, Karen now lives in Boston with her husband and two children. Our Little World is her first novel.