Published by Gallery/Scout Press on June 6th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I started reading Robyn Harding’s The Party. I was looking for what I liked to call a guilty pleasure or indulgent read, and when I saw this book advertised as something fans of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies would enjoy, I knew The Party was the book I was looking for.
And wow, what a ride it took me on! It actually surprised me how much I enjoyed it because, truth be told, none of the characters are especially likeable and they all made such bad choices throughout the story that I found myself literally wanting to scream at them. But still, there was just something almost intoxicating about watching this domestic drama play out.
The story begins on a simple note when Kim and Jeff Sanders, a wealthy couple who have what appears to be a picture perfect life in an affluent community in San Francisco, decide they want to throw their daughter, Hannah, a Sweet Sixteen party. Their version of a Sweet Sixteen party, however, is Hannah being allowed to invite a few of her best girl friends from school over for pizza and a sleepover. Sounds innocent enough, right? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, Hannah’s parents have no idea that she is desperately trying to climb her way up the social ladder at school and wants to be a part of the “Mean Girls” crowd. Hannah knows that if she’s going to be accepted by the coolest girls in school, she is going to have to step up her party game. Pizza and a slumber party just isn’t going to cut it. Once the girls arrive and Kim lays down her list of rules – no alcohol, no drugs, no boys, etc., the girls are left to their own devices, which includes breaking pretty much every house rule that was laid out for them. The next thing Kim and Jeff know, it’s the middle of the night and Hannah is standing in their bedroom, crying and covered in blood. There has been a terrible accident…
The rest of the novel follows the Sanders family as their lives are laid bare in the wake of this accident, which has left a girl, Ronni, permanently disfigured. Ronni’s mother goes on the attack, determined to make Kim and Jeff pay for what has happened to her daughter, and their friends take sides as some think they are culpable for what happened regardless of having laid down the house rules prior to leaving the girls unattended. In the wake of an impending lawsuit, family secrets and mistakes from the past resurface to haunt them, and as the layers are peeled away from the façade of the Sanders’ lives, it appears that Kim and Jeff’s perfect life isn’t nearly as perfect as it seemed on the surface. It also appears that many in the community are taking great pleasure in watching them, especially Kim, fall.
Ironically though, even though everyone is basically ganging up on them, it’s still nearly impossible to feel any sympathy for the Sanders because as if the party itself wasn’t a bad enough situation, they continue to make horrible decisions from that point forward. Kim walks around acting self-righteous and denying that they are in anyway responsible. Some of the things she says about Ronni and especially her mother are just completely out of line, considering the circumstance. And Jeff is no better. He spends his time trying to hide the fact that after Kim laid down the house rules the night of the party, he snuck back to the party and gave the girls a bottle of champagne so they could properly celebrate Hannah’s milestone birthday. He begs all of the girls involved not to rat him out and somehow accidently leads one of them on so that she starts sending him inappropriate texts, etc., all of which would make him look awful if it were to ever come out because of the lawsuit. Every time he responded to her, I just wanted to yell at him to stop being such an idiot.
I almost got to the point where I thought they deserved whatever happened to them because they were both such annoying characters. On the flip side though, although I felt sympathy for the girl who was disfigured, I was only semi-sympathetic to the way her mother went on the attack, determined not just to do what she could to take care of her daughter, but also hell bent on doing whatever she could to actually ruin the Sanders in every way possible.
Okay, so if I didn’t like any of the characters, what did I like about The Party? As I said, I was looking for a guilty pleasure read when I selected this book and I got exactly what I wanted. The story reads like a mashup of Big Little Lies, Mean Girls, with a side of Desperate Housewives thrown in for added flavor. It’s a truly fascinating look at just how ugly and mean people can be.
And even though I didn’t like any of the characters, I still liked the way they were written. They were all flawed and therefore utterly human. I also found everything that happened to be pretty relatable and realistic in the sense that all of the things that went wrong – the party, the accident, and all of the ensuing drama and meanness, etc. — could easily play out in any community, as could the bullying that took place at Hannah’s school once Ronni was deemed not pretty enough to hang around with the “cool” kids anymore.
I loved the pacing of the story too. There was never a dull moment because there was constant drama unfolding from all sides as I waited to see if the Sanders would ultimately be held legally responsible for what happened at the party and regardless, how they would begin to put their lives back together after the character assassination they faced from the victim’s mother and her attorneys.
I also liked that the story was told from multiple points of view, including Hannah, Jeff, Kim, as well as others in the community. Seeing what was driving each character really fleshed out the story and made the drama that much juicier.
The only real dislike I had was the ending. I can’t say much about it without giving it away, but it was not a satisfying ending for me. I wanted lessons to be learned from what had happened, and while I think some of the characters did learn and grow, the one I wanted to learn and grow the most apparently learned nothing. The ending was shocking and unexpected so in that sense was highly entertaining, but I was still a little disappointed.
If you’re a fan of domestic dramas like Big Little Lies or Desperate Housewives and don’t mind characters who aren’t especially likeable, I’d say The Party is well worth a read.
RATING: 4 STARS