In this book two neighbors, besties and high school seniors, Hannah and Emory, have had a profound falling out, the cause of which we don’t discover until very late in the book. Hannah is the daughter of a preacher man and equally committed Christian mother. She herself sings in a Christian pop group at her church and has always toed the line, somewhat in thrall to her dad’s powerful personality. Emory accuses her of being a sheep, an accusation that (along with just plain growing older) eventually pushes her into examining what she herself believes.
Emory is the child of divorced parents and lives with her mom, a successful caterer who is busily planning a big wedding to a live-in boyfriend, David. Emory is primarily an actress hoping to get into college at UCLA and currently rehearsing for the school production of OUR TOWN, a little subplot that provides the occasional lovely, nostalgic moment in what is otherwise a kind of depressing story.
Emory has a boyfriend, Luke, who stashes a ladder in the bushes and climbs in to visit her from time to time at night. There is some explicit sex in this book. He is injured playing sports, has a near-death experience, and seeks to put it in perspective by talking with Hannah and her dad. At Hannah’s suggestion he makes a video talking about his experience. Unfortunately, her father and one of his assistants come across it and, without permission, disseminate it far and wide as evidence of an afterlife, etc., in order to boost interest in their church and school. Although Luke has never been a religious person, he is grateful for the assistance Hannah and her dad have provided, so he goes along with this for a while, making TV appearances and talking at churches.
In the end, neither Hannah nor Luke decide they can claim the NDE is evidence of Heaven or any particular theological construct, just that it was a powerful, motivating experience of “pure love” that can’t be explained and doesn’t really need to be. Thus the title of the book: Little Do We Know.
Emory’s secret is revealed (her potential step-dad abused her), he is brought to sort-of justice, she and Hannah make up and plot an end-of-school road trip together, and Luke somewhat surprisingly goes off to help with a church mission in Guatemala.
Many of the characters display really disappointing flaws. INDEED, after decades I was reminded of Donald Sutherland in the movie “Ordinary People” telling his son Timothy Hutton not to admire people too much because they’ll disappoint. We have a bunch of rather disappointing people in this book. Nobody really seems to have much of a clue, in which case: Why read about them?
The book contains bad language, violence, and sex.