Little Children

( 131 )

Overview

Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a ...

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Overview

Tom Perrotta's thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch. There's Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed "The Prom King" by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah's husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a weekly roll in the hay with her husband, every Tuesday at 9pm.

They all raise their kids in the kind of sleepy American suburb where nothing ever seems to happen-at least until one eventful summer, when a convicted child molester moves back to town, and two restless parents begin an affair that goes further than either of them could have imagined. Unexpectedly suspenseful, but written with all the fluency and dark humor of Perrotta's previous novels, Little Children exposes the adult dramas unfolding amidst the swingsets and slides of an ordinary American playground.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
The eponymous children in this satirical novel are actually adults who, chafing at the burdens of parenthood, try to re-create their unencumbered youth. Sarah, an overeducated young homemaker, likens her tantrum-prone daughter to a “brooding Russian epileptic” out of Dostoevsky, and pines for lost college days of feminism and bisexuality. While her husband orders used panties online, she has furtive sex with a stay-at-home dad whose repeated failure to pass the bar has earned him the contempt of his gorgeous wife. The humor is sometimes cruel, but Perrotta never betrays the complexity of his characters. For all Sarah’s sins—neglecting her child, wallowing in romantic delusions—there’s something almost brave about her refusal to join the supermoms drilling their toddlers with dreams of Harvard, and about her yearning for more than “a painfully ordinary life.”
The New York Times
This soccer-mom Bovary, like the original, grasps the fundamental sadness of characters trapped in middle-class stability and yearning for adventures gone by. But Mr. Perrotta is too generous a writer to trivialize that. What distinguishes Little Children from run-of-the-mill suburban satire is its knowing blend of slyness and compassion. — Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
Little Children, like all Perrotta's work, is a virtuoso set of overlapping character studies, the sort of book where both a remorseless Stepford mom and an accused child molester can inspire pity and show themselves more than capable of their own sorts of compassion … Tom Perrotta is, indeed, all grown up now, and Little Children, is a greatly auspicious and instructive encounter with the dread world of maturity. — Chris Lehmann
Publishers Weekly
The characters in this intelligent, absorbing tale of suburban angst are constrained and defined by their relationship to children. There's Sarah, an erstwhile bisexual feminist who finds herself an unhappy mother and wife to a branding consultant addicted to Internet porn. There's Todd, a handsome ex-jock and stay-at-home dad known to neighborhood housewives as the Prom King, who finds in house-husbandry and reveries about his teenage glory days a comforting alternative to his wife's demands that he pass the bar and get on with a law career. There's Mary Ann, an uptight supermom who schedules sex with her husband every Tuesday at nine and already has her well-drilled four-year-old on the inside track to Harvard. And there's Ronnie, a pedophile whose return from prison throws the school district into an uproar, and his mother, May, who still harbors hopes that her son will turn out well after all. In the midst of this universe of mild to fulminating family dysfunction, Sarah and Todd drift into an affair that recaptures the passion of adolescence, that fleeting liminal period of freedom and possibility between the dutiful rigidities of childhood and parenthood. Perrotta (Election; Joe College; etc.) views his characters with a funny, acute and sympathetic eye, using the well-observed antics of preschoolers as a telling backdrop to their parents' botched transitions into adulthood. Once again, he proves himself an expert at exploring the roiling psychological depths beneath the placid surface of suburbia. East Coast author tour. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Perrotta moves away from his lighthearted, humorous tales of New Jersey (Joe College; Election) with his latest novel, a penetrating and absorbing portrait of three suburban couples and their failed marriages. There's Sarah, who was a bisexual feminist in college but has now married Richard, 20 years her senior, to escape a dead-end job; Todd, a handsome, stay-at-home dad who can't bring himself to care about repeatedly failing the bar exam; and Larry, a former cop who retired at 33 after mistakenly killing a 13-year-old boy. All of their lives collide with unexpected consequences the summer a convicted child molester moves into the neighborhood. Sarah and Todd have an extended affair, and Larry becomes obsessed with harassing the sex offender, while Richard turns into a devoted member of the online "Slutty Kay" fan club. Perrotta's poignant and unflinching prose skillfully evokes both sympathy for his characters and disdain for the convenience they have chosen. Highly recommended.-Karen T. Bilton, Somerset Cty. Lib., Bridgewater, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Several unstable marriages and a convicted pedophile's presence in a quiet suburban community ignite a complex, fast-moving plot. Darker than such sprightly entertainments as Joe College (2000) and The Wishbones (1997), Perrotta's fourth is an anatomy of marital and familial discord focused on four variously conjoined and separated couples. Sarah Pierce instantly falls for handsome househusband Todd, dubbed "the Prom King" by her fellow moms, who furtively ogle him at the playground where they all bring their kids. Sarah soon wants freedom from her (much older) husband Richard, a product consultant helplessly fixated on an Internet porn queen. Tod's wife Kathy, a hardworking documentary filmmaker, gradually loses patience with his failures to pass his bar exam. As Sarah and Todd begin a heady affair, ex-con sexual predator Ronnie McGorvey comes to live among them all with his widowed mother (and only companion) May, provoking neighborhood protests and stoking the already smoldering rage of Todd's touch-football league teammate Larry Moon, separated from his family and "retired" from the police department after he shot to death a black teenager brandishing a toy pistol. All these lit fuses eventually spark the superb extended climax, capped by a touching and deeply ironic resolution scene, which occurs at the same playground where its actions began. Savvy dialogue and interior monologue, characters so real you know you have relatives and neighbors exactly like them, and Perrotta's unerring grasp of the cultures of marriage and young parenthood pull the reader smoothly through a flexible narrative filled with little shocks of surprise and stunning set pieces (Kathy's awkward dinner partyfor Todd's "friends" Sarah and Richard, and his team's epic slugfest vs. a superior opponent are particular standouts). And the juxtapositions whereby Perrotta charts his several characters' interconnected misadventures are handled with masterly authority. An accomplished comic novelist extends his range brilliantly. Perrotta's best. Agent: Maria Massie/Witherspoon Associates
From the Publisher
"A great book…I was enthralled by every page."

—Dennis Lehane, author of MysticRiver and ShutterIsland

"Perrotta's best."

Kirkus Reviews

Praise for TOM PERROTTA AND HIS NOVELS

LITTLE CHILDREN

"Tom Perrotta…is like an American Nick Hornby: companionable and humane, lighthearted and surprisingly touching."—Newsweek

"Tom Perrotta has to be considered one of our true genius satirists. Little Children is a great book. It's both an indictment of and an elegy to that odd sociological construct known as suburban America. I was enthralled by every page, and damn if I didn't find myself wishing I'd written it."

—Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River and Shutter Island

"An accomplished comic novelist extends his range brilliantly. Perrotta's best."

Kirkus Reviews

JOE COLLEGE

"An absorbing, fleshed-out portrait of an American male edging toward adulthood by crossing seemingly rigid social boundaries."—The New York Times Book Review

"Proves yet again that Perrotta's novels are sheer pleasure."—San Francisco Chronicle

"An overwhelmingly pleasing book."—The New York Times

New York Times Book Review - Will Blythe
"What a wicked joy it is to welcome Little Children, Tom Perrotta's extraordinary novel…a sterling comic contribution…raises the question of how a writer can be so entertainingly vicious and yet so full of fellow feeling. Bracingly tender moments stud Perrotta's satire…at once suspenseful, ruefully funny and ultimately generous…What is Tom Perrotta but an American Chekov whose characters even at their most ridiculous seem blessed and enobled by a luminous human aura?"
New York Times Review - Janet Maslin
"Little Children will be Mr. Perrotta's breakthough popular hit…poignantly funny…What distinguishes it from run-of-the-mill suburban satire is its knowing blend of slyness and compassion."
People Magazine
"The cast is so real that book groups will have a blast comparing people they know to the ones in the book. Perrotta is that rare writer equally gifted at drawing people's emotional maps…and creating sidesplitting scenes. Suburban comedies don't come any sharper."
Entertainment Weekly
"Tom Perrotta's Little Children made me laugh so hard I had to put it down...an effervescent new work...a gentle, sparkling satire."
Christian Science Monitor
"With Little Children Perrotta has moved into the suburbs with a wrecking ball. He has cooked up recipes of depravity that would curl Betty Crocker's hair. If good satire can generate a corrective jolt, this may be a deadly shock."
Washington Post Review
"darkly comic, with a mischievous eye for absurd and intimate detail…a virtuoso set."
Dennis Lehane
"With this, his fifth book, Tom Perrotta has to be considered one of our true genius satirists. Little Children is a great book. Hilarious (I haven't laughed out loud so much over a book in years) but also deeply compassionate and, at times, terrifying. It's both an indictment of, and an elegy to, that odd sociological construct known as suburban America. I was enthralled by every page, and damn if I didn't find myself wishing I'd written it."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312315733
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 334,739
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta is the author of Bad Haircut, The Wishbones, Election, and Joe College. He lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Biography

That Tom Perrotta struggled into his early 30s to find success should come as no surprise to fans of his work. A Yale grad, Perrotta studied writing under Thomas Berger and Tobias Wolff before moving on to teach creative writing at Yale and Harvard. It was during this period that he began work on the stories that would comprise his first release, Bad Haircut. He had finished two more novels (including Election, which would prove to be his breakthrough book) before Bad Haircut was finally picked up by a publisher in 1994.

It wasn't until a chance introduction with a screenwriter that Perrotta finally moved into the public eye. The result of that encounter was the publication of Election (1998), which was made into the much-beloved film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. At last, Perrotta was able to call himself a working novelist.

The theme of ordinary people trapped in lives they never imagined runs throughout Perrotta's novels. Success for his characters is always just out of reach, and the world is always just outside of their control. Characters that seem destined for success serve as foils to the true protagonists, constant reminders of the unfairness of life.

Which is not to say that Perrotta's novels are depressing. On the contrary, his razor-sharp observations of the human condition are often side-splittingly funny, and the compassion he exhibits in his writing makes even the most ostensibly unlikable characters sympathetic. Perotta does not create caricatures; his novels work because he has a basic understanding that life is complex, and everyone has a story if you take the time to listen.

Good To Know

Some fun factoids from our interview with Perrotta:

"My mother is Albanian."

"I don't eat eggs."

"My dog lived to the ripe old age of 18."

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    1. Hometown:
      Belmont, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 13, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      Summit, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Yale University, 1983; M.A. in English/Creative Writing, Syracuse University, 1988
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Bad Mommy

THE YOUNG MOTHERS WERE TELLING EACH OTHER HOW TIRED they were. This was one of their favorite topics, along with the eating, sleeping, and defecating habits of their offspring, the merits of certain local nursery schools, and the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine. Smiling politely to mask a familiar feeling of desperation, Sarah reminded herself to think like an anthropologist. I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring suburban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself.

"Jerry and I started watching that Jim Carrey movie the other night?"

This was Cheryl, mother of Christian, a husky three-and-a-half-year-old who swaggered around the playground like a Mafia chieftain, shooting the younger children with any object that could plausibly stand in as a gun—a straw, a half-eaten banana, even a Barbie doll that had been abandoned in the sandbox. Sarah despised the boy and found it hard to look his mother in the eye.

"The Pet Guy?" inquired Mary Ann, mother of Troy and Isabelle. "I don't get it. Since when did passing gas become so hilarious?"

Only since there was human life on earth, Sarah thought, wishing she had the guts to say it out loud. Mary Ann was one of those depressing supermoms, a tiny, elaborately made-up woman who dressed in spandex workout clothes, drove an SUV the size of a UPS van, and listened to conservative talk radio all day. No matter how many hints Sarah dropped to the contrary, Mary Ann refused to believe that any of the other mothers thought any less of Rush Limbaugh or any more of Hillary Clinton than she did. Every day Sarah came to the playground determined to set her straight, and every day she chickened out.

"Not the Pet Guy," Cheryl said. "The state trooper with the split personality."

Me, Myself, and Irene, Sarah thought impatiently. By the Farrelly Brothers. Why was it that the other mothers could never remember the titles of anything, not even movies they'd actually seen, while she herself retained lots of useless information about movies she wouldn't even dream of watching while imprisoned on an airplane, not that she ever got to fly anywhere?

"Oh, I saw that," said Theresa, mother of Courtney. A big, raspy-voiced woman who often alluded to having drunk too much wine the night before, Theresa was Sarah's favorite of the group. Sometimes, if no one else was around, the two of them would sneak a cigarette, trading puffs like teenagers and making subversive comments about their husbands and children. When the others arrived, though, Theresa immediately turned into one of them. "I thought it was cute."

Of course you did, Sarah thought. There was no higher praise at the playground than cute. It meant harmless. Easily absorbed. Posing no threat to smug suburbanites. At her old playground, someone had actually used the c-word to describe American Beauty (not that she'd actually named the film; it was that thing with Kevin what's his-name, you know, with the rose petals). That had been the last straw for Sarah. After exploring her options for a few days, she had switched to the Rayburn School playground, only to find that it was the same wherever you went. All the young mothers were tired. They all watched cute movies whose titles they couldn't remember.

"I was enjoying it," Cheryl said. "But fifteen minutes later, Jimmy and I were both fast asleep."

"You think that's bad?" Theresa laughed. "Mike and I were having sex the other night, and I drifted off right in the middle of it."

"Oh, well." Cheryl chuckled sympathetically. "It happens."

"I guess," said Theresa. "But when I woke up and apologized, Mike said he hadn't even noticed."

"You know what you should do?" Mary Ann suggested. "Set aside a specific block of time for making love. That's what Lewis and I do. Every Tuesday night at nine."

Whether you want to or not, Sarah thought, her eyes straying over to the play structure. Her daughter was standing near the top of the slide, sucking on the back of her hand as Christian pummeled Troy and Courtney showed Isabelle her Little Mermaid underpants. Even at the playground, Lucy didn't interact much with the other kids. She preferred to hang back, observing the action, as if trying to locate a seam that would permit her to enter the social world. A lot like her mother, Sarah thought, feeling both sorry for her daughter and perversely proud of their connection.

"What about you?" It took Sarah a moment to realize that Cheryl was talking to her.

"Me?" A surprisingly bitter laugh escaped from her mouth. "Richard and I haven't touched each other for months."

The other mothers traded uncomfortable looks, and Sarah realized that she must have misunderstood. Theresa reached across the picnic table and patted her hand.

"She didn't mean that, honey. She was just asking if you were as tired as the rest of us."

"Oh," said Sarah, wondering why she always had so much trouble following the thread of a conversation. "I doubt it. I've never needed very much sleep."

Morning snack time was ten-thirty on the dot, a regimen established and maintained by Mary Ann, who believed that rigid adherence to a timetable was the key to effective parenting. She had placed glow-in-the-dark digital clocks in her children's rooms, and had instructed them not to leave their beds in the morning until the first number had changed to seven. She also bragged of strictly enforcing a 7 P.M. bedtime with no resistance from the kids, a claim that filled Sarah with both envy and suspicion. She had never identified with authority figures, and couldn't help sensing a sort of whip-cracking fascist glee behind Mary Ann's ability to make the trains run on time.

Still, as skeptical as she was of fanatical punctuality in general, Sarah had to admit that the kids seemed to find it reassuring. None of them complained about waiting or being hungry, and they never asked what time it was. They just went about the business of their morning play, confident that they'd be notified when the proper moment arrived. Lucy seemed especially grateful for this small gift of predictability in her life. Sarah could see the pleasure in her eyes when she came running over to the picnic table with the others, part of the pack for the first time all day.

"Mommy, Mommy!" she cried. "Snack time!"

Of course, no system is foolproof, Sarah thought, rummaging through the diaper bag for the rice cakes she could have sworn she'd packed before they left the house. But maybe that was yesterday? It wasn't that easy to tell one weekday from the next anymore; they all just melted together like a bag of crayons left out in the sun.

"Mommy?" An anxious note seeped into Lucy's voice. All the other kids had opened Ziploc bags and single-serving Tupperware containers, and were busy shoveling handfuls of Cheerios and Goldfish crackers into their mouths. "Where my snack?"

"I'm sure it's in here somewhere," Sarah told her.

Long after she had come to the conclusion that the rice cakes weren't there, Sarah kept digging through the diaper bag, pretending to search for them. It was a lot easier to keep staring into that dark jumble of objects than to look up and tell Lucy the truth. In the background she heard someone slurping the dregs of a juice box.

"Where it went?" the hard little voice demanded. "Where my snack?"

It took an act of will for Sarah to look up and meet her daughter's eyes.

"I'm sorry, honey." She let out a long, defeated sigh. "Mommy can't find it."

Lucy didn't argue. She just scrunched up her pale face, clenched her fists, and began to hyperventilate, gathering strength for the next phase of the operation. Sarah turned apologetically to the other mothers, who were watching the proceedings with interest.

"I forgot the rice cakes," Sarah explained. "I must have left them on the counter."

"Poor thing," said Cheryl.

"That's the second time this week," Mary Ann pointed out.

You hateful bitch, Sarah thought.

"It's hard to keep track of everything," observed Theresa, who had supplied Courtney with a tube of Go-gurt and a box of raisins.

Sarah turned to Lucy, who was emitting a series of whimpers that were slowly increasing in volume.

"Just calm down," Sarah pleaded.

"No!" Lucy shouted. "No calm down!"

"That'll be enough of that, young lady."

"Bad mommy! I want snack!"

"It's not here," Sarah said, handing her daughter the diaper bag. "See for yourself."

Fixing her mother with an evil glare, Lucy promptly turned the bag upside down, releasing a cascade of Pampers, baby wipes, loose change, balled-up Kleenex, books, and toys onto the wood-chip-covered ground.

"Sweetie." Sarah spoke calmly, pointing at the mess. "Clean that up, please."

"I...want...my...snack!" Lucy gasped.

With that, the dam broke, and she burst into piteous tears, a desolate animal wailing that even made the other kids turn and look, as if realizing they were in the presence of a virtuoso and might be able to pick up a few pointers.

"Poor thing," Cheryl said again.

Other mothers know what to do at moments like this, Sarah thought. They'd all read the same book or something. Were you supposed to ignore a tantrum and let the kid "cry herself out"? Or were you supposed to pick her up and remind her that she was safe and well loved? It seemed to Sarah that she'd heard both recommendations at one time or another. In any case, she knew that a good parent would take some sort of clearheaded action. A good parent wouldn't just stand there feeling clueless and guilty while her child howled at the sky.

"Wait." It was Mary Ann who spoke, her voice radiating such undeniable adult authority that Lucy immediately broke off crying, willing to hear her out. "Troy, honey? Give Lucy your Goldfish."

Troy was understandably offended by this suggestion.

"No," he said, turning so that his body formed a barrier between Lucy and his snack.

"Troy Jonathan." Mary Ann held out her hand. "Give me those Goldfish."

"But Mama," he whimpered. "It's mine."

"No backtalk. You can share with your sister."

Reluctantly, but without another word of protest, Troy surrendered the bag. Mary Ann immediately bestowed it upon Lucy, whose face broke into a slightly hysterical smile.

"Thank you," Sarah told Mary Ann. "You're a lifesaver."

"It's nothing," Mary Ann replied. "I just hate to see her suffer like that."

Not that they would, but if any of the other mothers had asked how it was that Sarah, of all people, had ended up married, living in the suburbs, and caring full-time for a small child, she would have blamed it all on a moment of weakness. At least that was how she described it to herself, though the explanation always seemed a bit threadbare. After all, what was adult life but one moment of weakness piled on top of another? Most people just fell in line like obedient little children, doing exactly what society expected of them at any given moment, all the while pretending that they'd actually made some sort of choice.

But the thing was, Sarah considered herself an exception. She had discovered feminism her sophomore year in college—this was back in the early nineties, when a lot of undergraduate women were moving in the opposite direction—and the encounter had left her profoundly transformed. After just a few weeks of Intro to Women's Studies, Sarah felt like she'd been given the key to understanding so many things that were wrong with her life—her mother's persistent depression, her own difficulty making and keeping female friends, the alienation she sometimes felt from her own body. Sarah embraced Critical Gender Studies with the fervor of a convert, taking from it the kind of comfort other women in her dorm seemed to derive from shopping or step aerobics.

She enlisted at the Women's Center and spent the second half of her college career in the thick of a purposeful, socially aware, politically active community of women. She volunteered at the Rape Crisis Hotline, marched in Take Back the Night rallies, learned to distinguish between French and Anglo-American feminism(s). By senior year, she had cut her hair short, stopped shaving her legs, and begun attending Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual dances and social events. Two months before graduation, she dove headlong into a passionate affair with a Korean-American woman named Amelia, who was headed for med school in New York City in the fall. It was a thrilling time for Sarah, the perfect culmination to her undergraduate voyage of self-discovery.

And then—suddenly and with astonishing finality—college was over. Amelia moved back to Westchester to spend the summer with her family. Sarah stayed in Boston, taking a job at Starbucks to pay the rent while she figured out what to do next. They visited each other twice that summer, but for some reason couldn't recapture what had so recently been an effortless rhythm of togetherness. On the day before Sarah was supposed to visit her in her new dorm, Amelia called and said maybe it would be best if they didn't see each other anymore. Medical school was overwhelming; she didn't have the space in her life for a relationship.

Sarah had nothing in her life but space, but she didn't get involved with anyone else for almost a year, and when she did it was with a man, a charismatic barista who did stand-up comedy and said he liked everything about her but her hairy legs. So Sarah started shaving again, got fitted for a diaphragm, and spent a lot of time in comedy clubs, listening to tired jokes about the difference between men (they won't ask for directions!) and women (they want to talk after sex!). When she tried to explain her objections to humor based on sexist stereotypes, Ryan suggested that she extract the metal rod from her ass and lighten up a little.

Along with dumping Ryan, applying to graduate school seemed like the perfect solution for escaping the rut she was in—a way to recapture the excitement of college while also making a transition into a recognizable version of adulthood. She cultivated an image of herself as a young professor, a feminist film critic, perhaps. She would be a mentor and an inspiration to girls like herself, the quiet ones who'd sleepwalked their way through high school, knowing nothing except that they couldn't possibly be happy with any of the choices the world seemed to be offering them.

Within a couple of weeks of starting the Ph.D. program, though, she discovered that she'd booked passage on a sinking ship. There aren't any jobs, the other students informed her; the profession's glutted with tenured old men who won't step aside for the next generation. While the university's busy exploiting you for cheap labor, you somehow have to produce a boring thesis that no one will read, and find someone willing to publish it as a book. And then, if you're unusually talented and extraordinarily lucky, you just might be able to secure a one-year, nonrenewable appointment teaching remedial composition to football players in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, the Internet's booming, and kids we gave C pluses to are waltzing out of college and getting rich on stock options while we bust our asses for a pathetic stipend that doesn't even cover the rent.

Sarah could see that it was all true, but she didn't really mind once she adjusted her expectations. Graduate school didn't have to lead anywhere, did it? Wouldn't it be worthwhile just to spend a couple of years reading and thinking, reawakening her mind from a long stupor induced by too many espresso drinks and lame one-liners? She could just get her master's, maybe teach in a prep school after that, or join the Peace Corps, or even figure out a way to climb onto the Internet gravy train like everybody else.

What did her in was the teaching. Some people loved it, of course, loved the sound of their own voices, the chance to display their cleverness to a captive audience. And then there were the instructors like herself, who simply couldn't communicate in a classroom setting. They made one point over and over with mind-numbing insistence, or else they circled around a dozen half-articulated ideas without landing on a single one. They read woodenly from prepared notes, or got lost in their muddled syntax while attempting to speak off the cuff. God help them if they attempted a joke. The faces looking back at them might be bored or confused or hostile, but mostly they were just full of pity. That's what she got from her two semesters of teaching: enough pity to last her a lifetime.

Broke and demoralized, Sarah quit school and landed back at Starbucks, this time with a seriously diminished sense of herself and her future. She was a failure, a twenty-six-year-old woman of still-ambiguous sexuality who had just discovered that she wasn't nearly as smart as she'd thought she was. I am a painfully ordinary person, she reminded herself on a daily basis, destined to live a painfully ordinary life.

As if to illustrate this humbling lesson, her old lover Amelia walked into Starbucks one chilly afternoon that fall. She looked absolutely radiant, with a strong-jawed Korean husband standing proudly beside her, and a plump, wide-eyed baby strapped to her chest in a forward-facing contraption. The two women recognized each other right away. Amelia froze in the doorway, exchanging a searching look with Sarah across the length of the floor.

Sarah smiled sadly, trying to acknowledge the strangeness and emotional richness of the moment, but Amelia didn't smile back. Her face—it was fuller, less girlish, with a touch of fatigue around the eyes—didn't betray the slightest sign of desire or regret or even simple surprise. All Sarah could find on it was a familiar look of pity, as if Amelia were just another bored freshman who didn't know what the hell the teacher was going on about. She whispered something to her husband, who cast a quick, startled glance at Sarah before mouthing the word, Really? Amelia shrugged, as if she didn't understand how it was possible that she even knew this pathetic woman in the green apron, let alone that they'd once danced to Aretha Franklin in their underwear and collapsed onto a narrow bed in a fit of giggles that seemed like it would never stop. At least that's what Sarah hoped Amelia was remembering as the perfect little family retreated out the door, leaving her to fake a smile at the next person in line and explain for the umpteenth time that there was no such thing as "small" at Starbucks.

That, she would have explained to the other mothers, was my moment of weakness. Except that it wasn't really a moment. It lasted all through that winter and into the following spring, which was when Richard stepped up to the counter one tedious morning—he was a regular, a middle-aged man with a neatly trimmed beard and an air of quiet authority—and asked if she was having as bad a day as he was, which for some reason felt like the first kind thing anyone had said to her in years. And that was how she'd ended up at this godforsaken playground.

Sarah knelt down and began slowly gathering up the vast assortment of crap that had been disgorged from the diaper bag. She knew she should have asked Lucy to help—at three, a child was old enough to begin taking responsibility for the messes she'd created—but asserting this principle was hardly worth the risk of provoking another tantrum.

Besides, the less help she got, the longer she could stay on the ground, away from the accusatory faces of the other mothers, letting the sharp edges of the wood chips dig even deeper into her kneecaps, inflicting a dull pain Sarah thought she probably deserved and might even begin to enjoy in a second or two.

Her copy of The Handmaid's Tale was lying cover down, on top of The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist, and the sight of the two books filled her with an odd sense of shame. She felt a sudden burst of kinship for those medieval flagellants who used to walk through town, publicly thrashing themselves to atone for their sins. Pretty soon she'd be packing a whip in the diaper bag.

"Maybe you should make a checklist," Mary Ann told her. "Tape it to the door so it's the last thing you see before leaving the house. That's what I do."

I am not long for this playground, Sarah thought. She looked up and forced herself to smile.

"Thank you," she said. "That's a really helpful suggestion."

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Reading Group Guide

Tom Perrotta’s thirty-ish parents of young children are a varied and surprising bunch.

There’s Todd, the handsome stay-at-home dad dubbed “The Prom King” by the moms of the playground; Sarah, a lapsed feminist with a bisexual past, who seems to have stumbled into a traditional marriage; Richard, Sarah’s husband, who has found himself more and more involved with a fantasy life on the internet than with the flesh and blood in his own house; and Mary Ann, who thinks she has it all figured out, down to scheduling a weekly roll in the hay with her husband, every Tuesday at 9pm. They all raise their kids in the kind of sleepy American suburb where nothing ever seems to happen – at least until one eventful summer, when a convicted child molester moves back to town, and two restless parents begin an affair that goes further than either of them could have imagined.

Unexpectedly suspenseful, but written with all the fluency and dark humor of Tom Perrotta's previous novels, Little Children exposes the adult dramas unfolding amidst the swingsets and slides of an ordinary American playground.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 131 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(50)

4 Star

(44)

3 Star

(22)

2 Star

(9)

1 Star

(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 131 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 29, 2010

    A good book-

    A guy wrote this book? Hmmm... I liked the story but was trying not too because of the "cheating" message. I don't like the idea of people thinking this could actually happen but it was a good book. This is the story of Todd (a stay at home dad) who meets Sarah (a mom) at a local playground. Sarah's husband, Richard is more into the internet sex fantasies he is having rather than his family and Kathy (Todd's wife) is jealous that she can't stay home. This book was hard to put down. I wanted Sarah to leave her husband before she met Todd.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2009

    nothing remarkable - but interesting

    nothing really stood out in this book, other than the characterizations - suburbia must be a lot duller than I remember it

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2006

    Did not enjoy..

    I am not interested in flawless heroic characters, but thought this book took selfish characters to a new level. Excellent representation of people I knew while living in cities, but not representative of my suburban experience at all. I did not find the satirical elements very sharp, and thought there were too many plot crutches used to further the story. Complex character development might have made the effort more worthwhile.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2004

    Dysfunctional Suburbanites

    I thought I would be drawn to this book because I'm a 30ish year old suburban parent of young kids. Although, I finished this book in 6 hours on a Saturday night, I found it sad and disturbing that our American Society have way too many people who can relate to these selfish characters, basically lost in life and purpose, and especially lacking in parenting skills. There were a couple moments where I laughed because of some of the sterotypes Perrota described are soo true. I was hoping to read an amazing ending, but that didn't realize at the end. Despite that, Perrota's command of writing is actually quite enjoyable.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2010

    Couldn't put it down

    I started reading this book to distract myself before taking my grad school comprehensive exams and did not put it down until I had finished the whole thing in one day. I liked how multi-dimensional the characters were, and how it was hard to try and fit them into a mold (I tried when I first started reading it; the bored wife, the jock, the child molester, but they always kept changing). The plot itself always kept moving, and I liked how it would leave you hanging on one story, talk about another story, and then come back to it to build the tension.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2008

    Big Love for "Little Children"

    Tom Perrotta¿s novel ¿Little Children¿ is an incredible tale of two married people having an affair while a child molester is living in their neighborhood. The book represents many types of people from an old and kind hearted woman to a young boy wearing a jester¿s cap. Sarah is an unhappy married woman with a 3 year old daughter named Lucy and a husband named Richard. Todd is an at times happy person with a beautiful wife named Kathy and a little boy named Aaron. The two meet at the park thanks to a bet, and they hit it off at first kiss. From then on the two grow more and more attached while not seeing each other until they want to run away together. The somewhat relevant sub-plot features a ¿convicted¿ pedophile, Ronald, and his mother, May. She tries to be nice, but he insists on being lonely and selfish.<BR/>The book wrestles with emotions from all the characters. Sarah is such a troubled girl who sits away from the other mothers and rethinks her life over and over. Throughout the book there are past memories of her life where she lost it all. Todd also experiences past memories of the good times in his life where he was a popular and cool guy. Sarah is now a boyish looking lady with no real beautiful features and a daughter that annoys her to the end. Todd is now an unemployed househusband with a beautiful child. The book deals with what it feels like to be lonely but wanting. The two main characters want so much that they can¿t have. Sarah wants a perfect man, Todd, and that¿s it. Todd just wants to have fun, queue Sarah. Their relationship increases heavily the next time they meet since they engage in sex.<BR/>Sarah has very childish dreams that I found rather annoying sometimes, but I felt for her. Her character has many realizations throughout that really hit hard in the end. She seems to just be critical and distant in the beginning when really she wants to be noticed. This made me wonder why she didn¿t just walk over and talk to the mothers. My emotions ranged from hatred to love to sympathy for Sarah, especially in the end.<BR/>Todd is just a frat boy at heart. He never really wanted to live like he does, but he did want to have a kid. For a lack of better words Todd just wants to have sex with someone other than Kathy. I found him to be a fun character, but really just a baby. Kathy¿s body description makes her out to be like a Victoria Secret model when they use words like lustrous and glamorous in her body type. I felt no sympathy for Todd at the end, but I assume that was the point. <BR/>What I really loved about this book was the stories. There were so many past memories that I found to be intriguing. You learn so much about these characters to the point where we actually know more than the characters know about themselves. The thing I didn¿t like was the ending. Without spoiling the ending I will point out that it feels unnatural. The dialogue, writing description, actions of characters, and abruptness did not feel like they were written by Perrotta. However, this book is highly recommended by me. I love this book, but I will say the movie has a better ending. I also recommend the movie as well, but please read the book first.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2008

    Pool or Beach Read

    The premise of this book seemed so promising, but ended up being really predictable. The story did have some colorful characters which obviously transferred well to the big screen. Maybe that was Perotta's idea to begin with. The characterization of the playgroup commando mom's was pretty funny and sadly, accurate. But overall, the book was full of very selfish people who put aside their parenting. This book was a good way to spend time at the beach without having to think too much.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2008

    Very entertaining

    This was an entertaining read. It's a good page turner with interesting story lines. I didn't give it a 5 because it's not among the best literature I've read, but it's definately worth a read.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2007

    great pick for a book club

    while not an outstanding example of literature, the author develops his characters very well in this 300 page book. the characters in this book are unlikeable and the subject matter is unlikeable but somehow 'little children' will bring great discussion for a book club group and it will be liked.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2006

    NOT THAT GREAT

    i heard so much positive feedback from people who have read little children or had heard thru the grapevine, that i was actually excited to read it. i soon realized my expectations were too high. it was readable , but not consuming.it bored me. i couldn't wait to be done with it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2007

    what's wrong with that peolple

    Unhappy people, unhappy mariges sucks. The hole book sucks.

    3 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2006

    Annoying

    I found the characters in this book so annoying I counldn't finish it. The more I read the more irritated I became with these characters. Perhaps that was the authors intention but it doesn't make for pleasant reading

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2006

    OK read

    I bought this book because of the many 5 star reviews, but was disappointed. Mediocre read, cliched characters, obligatory underdog-team-beats-top-team sports event, yawn. Yuppie romantic crisis, yawn. Passes the time, but characters neither intrigue nor stir the reader's emotions. Glad when I finished it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Honestly, It Was Pretty Boring

    It's basically a book about a woman whining about how having a child sucks and the pretentious adults she has to deal with. Granted, there were some very interesting parts but overall it was pretty lame.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2004

    Not as good as I thought it would be...

    I read reviews of this book, both good and bad, I thought it would be something I would truly enjoy. The drama between Todd and Sarah was what I thought I needed to read. However, I found the story lacking. I needed to believe that Todd and Sarah would indeed both come to their senses and make their marriages work. Having enjoyed their little fling, they would realize that infidelity didn't fullfill all their needs. The relationship between the ex-felon and his mother was simply disturbing to me. He is degrading to her and she keeps coming back for more, ever hopeful he will repent and become the person she wants him to be. Not one of the characters marriage's were ideal. Maybe that was the author's intent. To show the reader that no marriage is perfect, you can be easygoing, or plan everything out, but you can't control the other person. I found myself skimming the last few chapters just so I could have closure for the characters and move on to another book. I am sure some people will like the way the chapters switch from one character to another, I found it distracting.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2013

    Love it as much as the movie!

    I've been a fan of this movie for quite some time and finally decided to read the book. Both are excellent, although, naturally I wish I had read the book first. I'm a pretty slow reader and this book is such an easy read; it went by almost too quickly. It's the first Tom Perrotta book I've read, but I feel the need to read more now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 3, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Good book

    This book was written through the perspective of multiple characters, which is a great way to follow and understand the story line.<BR/>Unfortunately, the story was beliveable because some of it happens in everyday society. <BR/>The cover didn't really make too much sense to me either. It would have been better if it was a picture of a swing set from the park.<BR/>Read the book BEFORE you see the movie. I felt that the movie was a bit flat in comparison to the book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    All Grown Up

    On the surface, Tom Perrotta's novel 'Little Children' is about the affair that begins on the playground between a househusband (Todd) and housewife (Sarah) looking after their respective children while their spouses are off earning the family income. However, Perrotta explores much more than the affairs between the two lovers he shares with us the homelives of each. He lets us know how these two have reached this point and why they long for something more...why any of us long for something more and how maybe we'll never be totally happy as something will always be out of reach. He also gives us a some insight into Todd's and Sarah's pasts, including how they met their spouses. Sarah's husband also leads an interesting secret life that includes his hidden fetish of Slutty Kay, a wildly sexual girl he meets on the Internet. Friends and neighbors are introduced, and we get to know their personalities and homelives as well. Last but not least is the story of a new face to the neighborhood, Ronnie, a convicted pedophile, as he comes back home to live with his mother and is 'outed' and constantly ridiculed by a committee led by a concerned (and volatile) parent. His characters are very three-dimensional, and it was a pleasure to get to know each and every one of them, whether I liked their personalities or not. 'Little Children' is a literary version between 'Desperate Housewives' and the movie 'Crash' where many lives and events happen at the same time and occasionally intersect. And, like little children, the adults in this fantastically written novel want immediate gratification and happy times all the time. A friend of mine had also read the novel, albeit before me. She told me that she didn't care for the novel and was disappointed that there was no resolution at the end. After finishing the novel, I didn't see that. I definitely felt a resolution with all storylines, as well as their futures. Now if only the movie version would be released in cities other than LA, New York, and Chicago, I could feel fulfilled by the whole experience and get to see the characters I grew to know and love over the past couple of weeks.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2007

    A reviewer

    This story has rich characters, prose, and a great plot. I was so impressed with Perrotta. He sucked me in with the voice of his characters from the first page. And the way he changed my sympathies toward the different characters throughout the novel was astonishing. Also, his voice was so objective...he didn't say what was right or wrong and he portrayed each character fairly...displaying their positive and negative qualities without judgment. Finally, the title is fabulous. I thought about the title throughout the book and tried to apply it to the characters and plot. I personally loved the ending...the last paragraph is beautifully written and I love that it doesn't wrap everything up in a nice little package...it stayed true to the themes and characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2007

    A Good, Fast read

    I liked this book alot. It reminded me of myself being stuck in the whole stay at home mom rut. I wasnt really fond of the Richard and the panty thing but hey its how it goes right!! I really was disappointed with the ended. Not enough to not recommend it but enough so tell you not to get your hopes up thinking you know how it all is going to end!!!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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