Title: Belong to Me
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Release Date: April 1, 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Review: Originally posted at Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Belong to Me picks up the story of Cornelia Brown from de los Santos’s debut bestseller Love Walked In, a book that is still on The New York Times paperback list. The book opens with Cornelia and Teo’s recent move to the suburbs, where Cornelia is finding that it may be harder for her to fit in than she first believed. She has several run-ins with the local queen bee, Piper, who takes an instant dislike to Cornelia. But Piper is not as heartless as she first appears – her best friend, Elizabeth, is dying of cancer, and Piper feels like she’s dying right along with her. Then there’s Dev, an incredibly intelligent, sweet thirteen-year-old who has just relocated from California along with his mother, Lake, who quickly becomes friends with Cornelia. Belong to Me is the story of how these lives intertwine and how trusting someone unexpectedly can lead to great things (and conversely, how lying to someone can lead to ruin).
The most appealing characteristic of de los Santos’s writing is its sheer beauty. She was originally a poet, which explains how she can string together such compellingly gorgeous sentences. Even if the subject of the story was horrid, merely her writing would make anything worth reading. Luckily, the story of Belong to Me lives up to the splendor of de los Santos’s writing style.
Though many of the characters in Belong to Me were introduced in de los Santos’ previous novel, it is not necessary to read Love Walked In first (though I highly recommend it, just for sheer enjoyment). They are two, separate parts of a complete whole. However, reading Love Walked In first does give further depth to Cornelia, Teo, and Clare, if only to be able to see how Cornelia has grown up so much yet stayed exactly the same. This is an accomplishment that seems effortless to de los Santos, and it is repeated throughout Belong to Me. The characters are written superbly and they draw you in from the second you open the novel. The fact that it is told from three different viewpoints (Cornelia, Piper, and Dev) only adds to the pleasure of reading the book. In many cases, when a book is told from multiple perspectives, it seems that at least one is inferior to the others. By the end of the book, the reader dreads these particular perspectives and races through them in order to get to the more interesting stories. However, that is not the case in Belong to Me. Each perspective is unique and interesting, and while the reader may pick a definite favorite (in my case, Cornelia because I am biased by Love Walked In), all three are a delight to read.
The difficult thing about Belong to Me is where to put it with regards to genre. Obviously, it is fiction. But what about subcategories? The most obvious would be chick lit. However, I would argue that Belong to Me runs a deeper than the typical chick lit book. It isn’t really women’s fiction either. Though the readers of Belong to Me will likely be overwhelmingly female, I would think that a man could pick up this book and be as delighted with it as any woman. Marisa de los Santos’ appeal is universal – it is too difficult to define by any genre limits.
In the end, Belong to Me is a story about the connections between people. Why do we connect with some, yet shut ourselves off for others? And why do we seem to depend on the people we least expect? It’s all about reaching out to others, trust, love, and what it really means to belong.