Madison Vain
August 08, 2014 AT 04:00 PM EDT

To be honest, I was decidedly unenthusiastic about this book. The title made me think of A Million Little Pieces; the cover looked oddly “self-helpy.” For those and a slew of other ill-founded reasons, I planned to let the papers on my desk pile up around it, swallowing the book whole.

Then Leah, who wrote EW’s review of Big Little Lies, stopped by, pointed at it, and said, “This was so good. You have to read it!” And Stephan was like, “Hey, have you read that yet? I put it on your desk a million years ago.” Suddenly, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman were optioning the rights for a movie—and reading it felt unavoidable.

So I stopped avoiding it and started reading. And then I couldn’t stop reading. A day later, I had finished the whole thing and desperately wished there were more.

Moriarty (anyone else picturing Sherlock?) is an agile storyteller, moving between people and plotlines and moods with exceptional dexterity. In Big Little Lies, she tells a great, dark little tale: The kindergarten moms and dads in a small Australian community somehow drive one of their own to commit murder at the school’s trivia night. The characters all verge on caricatures—the PTA super-mom, the wealthy wife with a dark secret, the insecure single mother in a sea of married couples, the over-protective mom, the reformed absentee dad, the totally obtuse mom, the wealthy businessman husband. On some level, we know all these people. My mother is definitely one of them. I can tick off the families of my friends into each box. Someday, I’ll be one as well. (I did list “the cool mom,” right?)

The plot works backwards. The book starts with the murder, immediately rewinds six months, and counts down the events leading up to the tragic trivia night. Who did it? Why’d they do it? Who died? How is it possible that I am laughing on one page and dealing with very realistic issues of domestic violence on the next?

It’s a story fraught with secrets; each family has its own respective set. The novel will have you questioning each of them—and the twist at the end, well, I envy the reader who saw that coming.

Don’t spoil it in the comments, but has anyone else picked this up? What did you think?

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