Miles Adler-Hart is a boy on a mission in Mona Simpson's Casebook: he so desperately wants his mother to let him watch Survivor that he hides under her bed, hoping to eavesdrop on phone conversations she has with other mothers to discuss that very issue (not to mention whether or not he should be allowed to have a Gameboy). But he gets far more than he asks for when his father shows up too, and the parents discuss the end of their marriage instead of Survivor.
Not surprisingly, this is a conversation that makes Miles reel, since it's the first inkling he's had of his parents contemplating divorce. As for any kid of that age (with younger twin sisters to boot), it's a big change. He also learns that his best friend Hector's parents may be going down the same road.
A rational person would stop eavesdropping right there, but we're talking about pre-pubescent males. Miles and Adler go further, figuring out how to wiretap the landline (but not, to their frustration, cell phones), something that comes in handy when Miles' mom begins dating the mysterious Eli.
Simpson nails the adolescent boy, his perseverance and sometimes cluelessness. Miles and Hector are endearing even when they're frustrating, and they're always believable.She also gets family dynamics and how parental guilt plays into things:
"Before, my parents had fought about which one of them would have to go to the class picnic, who'd show up for the teacher conference, back-to-school night, blah blah blah. Now they still fought, but over who would get to. Had to or get to, the Mims [Miles' mom] always did. Since the separation, she seemed in constant motion. Like Avis, the second-biggest car-rental company, she tried harder."
However, once we've moved past the divorce and get into mom's new beau, the story begins to drag significantly. There's a long stretch of Miles and Hector trying to figure out what's weird about Eli, when the reader figures it out pretty early on. It's not surprising the boys don't, but I don't think we need quite so much time focused on their cluelessness.
Then, finally, all is revealed, and whoosh! We zip right through several years and all kinds of summation that, frankly, would have been more interesting if explored more thoroughly, instead of mom's boyfriend issues.
My final quibble is the book is set up as a manuscript Miles has written as an adult, which Hector occasionally comments on. This would have worked--would have been wonderful, really--if Simpson had put more effort into it. Instead, Hector's comments only appear once in a great while. It could have been so fun to have adult Hector more often contradicting what adult Miles remembers. But unfortunately, it's so rare that Hector comments that it feels annoying after a while, as if Simpson wrote dozens of pages and then thought, oh, hey, I should have Hector weigh in here. Go big or go home, I say.
So, 4.5 stars for the first half, 1.5 for the second half. Sad.