Review of “Belong to Me” by Marisa de los Santos

I adored this book. Just adored it. But I think I drove my husband crazy while I was reading it. [Okay, make that crazier.]

Every new revelation about couples in or out of love would get me going and I’d pepper him with questions: “What are my five favorite movies?” I’d challenge. (He named his five favorite.) “What are my favorite foods?” (He totally amazed me by not knowing a single one.) “Do you feel lucky; blessed; chosen?” (He’s still laughing.)

This book may be about love, but I should clarify: it definitely is not a “chick book.” The writing is exuberantly intelligent, outrageously perceptive, witty, touching, and sometimes even revelatory.

Cornelia and Teo Sandoval move from the city to a moderately wealthy suburb whose inhabitants have a “country club mentality” about the acceptability of appearances, norms, and behavior. Even though Teo is an oncologist and thus has a proper social status, and has gorgeous eyes and a sexy grin to cover up any lapses from propriety (the rules for which in any event apply less to men than to women), Cornelia follows her own drummer, and is at first a pariah because of it.

At their first social dinner, for example, Cornelia wore what she thought was an “entirely appropriate” dress and high-heeled sandals. As soon as she entered the gathering, she saw it was all wrong:

“In fact, as far as I could tell, any dress would’ve been wrong because Megan and every single other woman in the room was wearing pants. Linen pants. Linen pants with sleeveless silk blouses or cotton sweaters. It was a pastel-colored prairie of linen pants and sleeveless tops, stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see.”

What was hilarious about the book is that the next thing you know, you’re hearing a description of the party from Cornelia’s snobby neighbor, Piper:

“Piper had told Elizabeth about the cocktail party, about Cornelia’s ludicrously skimpy black dress and … four-inch-high ‘do-me’ shoes. ‘Fuck-me’ is what she’d meant, but Piper only ever swore in her head. If she had been being completely honest, she’d have to retract the bit about the shoes. Yes, they were high, but they were understated enough in other ways, little pale gold sandals with thin straps. But Piper could tweak a detail here and there if she felt like it, couldn’t she? She wasn’t a reporter for the New York Times, was she?”

The book is full of such wickedly funny satirical observations about this social group, and yet, even they turn out not to be the one-dimensional Stepford people they appear to be at first.

One theme that runs through the novel – the social implications of Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest – plays out in a way perhaps best expressed by Cornelia’s academically-inclined sister Ollie:

“…as I see it, the problem with you, Cornelia, is that, in managing the stressors in your new environment, you’re relying on the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, a biobehavioral pattern that was long assumed to apply to both men and women. The new and well-supported thinking on this subject suggests that, in fact, women more readily and effectively cope with stress through ‘tend-and-befriend’ behavior, which, like most behaviors, is undoubtedly the result of evolutionary pressures.”

Cornelia thinks she has found a friend in Lake, a smart and articulate waitress with a very gifted 13-year old son, Dev. But Lake pulls away from Cornelia out of the blue. Just as oddly, Piper gravitates toward her. And when Cornelia and Teo’s “surrogate” daughter Clare arrives for a visit, Dev forms a bond with Clare that transcends time and distance and all social barriers.

The relationships among all of the characters become extremely complex in unexpected ways as they all get to know each other better. “How cool,” Dev says at one point, “to be someone’s there.” To belong together. It’s something everyone in this story wants. But it doesn’t always come easily; it takes work, and compassion, even (and especially) for oneself.

Discussion: I love the way the author plays with perceptions, showing us that one person’s “cute black dress” is another person’s nightmare. Or this wonderful insight about the egocentric nature of our perceptions writ large made by Dev, when he is talking about Darwin in school:

“Well, you can sort of see how people might think that humans are the pinnacle of evolution because we have high reasoning and creativity and supercomplex brains. I think a lot of people think that, in fact. … [But] It’s not about us. We think we’re the center of everything because we’re smarter than other animals, but even that’s not fair because we invented the whole idea of ‘smart’ and we decided smart means the thing that we are. When you think about it, whales are smarter than we are when it comes to surviving in the deep ocean, right?”

…Which is all to say that you can hardly find a more entertaining metaphorical treatment of the process of evolution and survival of the fittest than this novel. And yet, you don’t even have to be aware of that aspect of it to love it for its lively, witty prose that is nevertheless steeped in compassion for the human condition.

Evaluation: There is so much good about this book. There isn’t one character I wasn’t in love with by the end of the book. This story examines almost every permutation you can imagine of the interrelationships between friends, enemies, and lovers. Highly recommended!

BUT!!!! I have to tell you, there is a prequel, Love Walked In, which I didn’t know before reading this book. You might want to read the prequel first.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by William Morrow, 2008

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32 Responses to Review of “Belong to Me” by Marisa de los Santos

  1. Sandy says:

    Oh thank you! You know I hate it when I do fail you with my recommendations, but this IS NOT ONE OF THEM!!!! There for awhile I told everyone I knew to read The Help. It was no risk. I promised love – a money back guarantee. Now I’ve embraced these two books, and have told every woman I know that they have to read them. I’ve friended Ms. Santos on Facebook. I’m giddy with her talent and how her books make me feel. All of my friends are reading them now, and when we talk about them (as we did last night) we all get this dreamy look in our eyes. Magical. (Psst…and she is working on another book!!)

  2. amymckie says:

    This sounds like a really great book, great review!

  3. Trisha says:

    Sounds like a great read! I’m laughing too hard about your opening. My husband couldn’t name my top five anything to save his soul! : ) He may know that my favorite food is pizza though since I make him eat it so often.

  4. bermudaonion says:

    I read Love Walked In and just loved it. I got this book shortly afterward and haven’t read it yet. I need to go away for a week with nothing but books – no, make that a month!

  5. Margot says:

    My oldest daughter has been bugging me to read this author. It sounds like I should pay attention to her and you and Sandy too. Your review makes the book sound like a lot of fun for my brain as well as my emotions.

  6. softdrink says:

    I have the prequel, if you’d like it…I could give it to you when you’re here.

  7. softdrink says:

    Ack! I lied! I don’t have it. 😦 It’s Belong to Me that I have. Once upon a time, I had both books.

  8. zibilee says:

    I have read very good things about this book and am so glad to hear that you liked it!! It sounds excellent and you wrote a really wonderful review on it. I am going to have to grab a copy of my own. Thanks!

  9. great review! I read the prequel and it blew me away so I am excited to get to this one and the lovely characters from the first novel!

  10. Kay says:

    I read BELONG TO ME last year I think – anyway while I was still working at the library. I was practically attacking women and telling them they needed to read it. Then I discovered the prequel, LOVE WALKED IN. I still haven’t picked that one up. I need to. Then I’ll need to reread BELONG TO ME. I love this book for all the reasons you stated and probably some I’ve forgotten about. LOL

  11. Jenny says:

    I love this author, and I can’t wait for whatever she’s going to write next. I was reluctant to read Love Walked In because it looked all chick-lit, which isn’t usually my thing, but I adored it when I did read it. Cornelia has such a great and vivid voice, and the relationship between her and Clare in Love Walked In is so, so touching. I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of it!

  12. diane says:

    I liked this book a lot as well. It’s always such a great feeling when you hit a home run with a book!

  13. stacybuckeye says:

    Love Walked Is one that bloggers voted for me to read this year and I loved it. I haven’t picked up the sequel yet. I am trying my hardest to get through some of my challenge books, but I can only hold out so long 🙂

  14. Alyce says:

    I own Love Walked In, but still haven’t read it. I’ve heard from several people that Belong to Me is very good though.

    I loved your bit about your conversation with your husband. I think my husband would ace the test, but that’s only because I never shut up about what my favorite things are (and he’s a good listener). I’m sure he would laugh at the last question too though.

  15. Frances says:

    I have both of these and you and Sandy have both legitimized my plan to read them. Thanks for banishing the “chick lit” label as when I paged through these to read excerpts they both seemed to contain such smart writing. This wasn’t the crying and husband laughing book, right? 🙂

  16. as instructed, i will read Loves Walks In first! 😉

  17. Lisa says:

    I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to read this since I just bought it last week off B&N’s clearance table. Sounds like it will be well worth the $6 I paid for it! If for no other reason than that I’ll get to drive my husband crazier!

  18. If I was reading this book, I probably would be asking my husband those questions too just to see how much he knows about me 🙂

  19. toothy says:

    I have Love Walked In sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t read it yet. I didn’t know the books were in series either until Meg told me. I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much! I’m definitely going to have to move Love Walked In up my TBR list and hopefully get my hands on Belong to Me soon. thanks for the great review!!

  20. Jenners says:

    Wasn’t this so good???? I just loved it … and I found out I read the first book second too. I still need to read “Love Walked In.” And I agree with you … it is so much more than a “chick book.” I love how Piper changed for me in the book.

  21. Staci says:

    I couldn’t have said this any better…I fell in love with all of the characters!!

  22. Ti says:

    I read half of this book and adored it, but then got terribly sidetracked and never went back to it. I hate when that happens! I did that with The Book Thief too. I plan to go back to both but when? Not sure.

  23. Wendy says:

    I really loved this book as well! I also read the prequel AFTER the sequel 🙂 It was good, but I thought the second book was better!

  24. Esme says:

    I have been wanting to read this book for a while-I adore the cover.

  25. Belle says:

    I just put in a request for both books at the library – they both sound like such wonderful reads!

  26. Bookjourney says:

    This sounds good! I have seen it at the book store but up until now have passed it by. I love the questions you peppered your hubby with – thats just fun!

  27. Amanda says:

    I read Love Walked In first and absolutely adored it, one of my favorite books from 2008. I read this one soon after and while I didn’t like it as much as Love Walked In, it was still really good. I later went out and bought both books to have my own copies!

  28. Marie says:

    Wow, Jill, what a great review. I’ve passed this book by many, many times but you’re really making me reconsider. 🙂 🙂

  29. I’m so glad that you loved this book! I didn’t have any problem with it being a sequel other than that I have yet to read the prequel. Does that make sense? I know what’s ultimately going to happen, so I’ve not been as interested in Love Walked In.

    Great review, Jill! I love your commentary!

  30. Rebecca:) says:

    I have been resisting this book because it has just been everywhere but the last review I read and your review here make me reconsider. I really like the excerpts you used.

  31. Darlene says:

    I loved ‘Love Walked In’ but I have yet to read this one. I’ve seen a couple of reviews the last while and it just reminds me of how much I’d like to get back to the story. Great review Jill!

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