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Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel Big Little Lies begins with a shocking death at an elementary school’s trivia night, rocking a community of affluent parents to their core. They want to know: Was this death an accident, or did something more sinister occur? Though these looming questions usher the atmospheric novel to its exciting conclusion, it’s Moriarty’s smart observations—balancing humor with empathy—about parenting, gossip, and school-yard dynamics that makes Big Little Lies a true page-turner, and inspired its adaptation into a hit HBO series starring Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.

The novel follows three mothers, Madeline, Celeste, and Jane, over the six months leading up to the trivia event. These women are harboring secrets and hiding their deepest trauma from each other, fueled, ultimately, by their need to survive. Moriarty, writing thoughtfully about the impacts of heavy topics like domestic violence and sexual assault, makes the characters feel real. As the mothers’ secrets grow increasingly tangled, the explosive school event brings everything to the fore. —Mahita Gajanan

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