Pearl quickly becomes a regular fixture at the Richardsons’ house, and feels enveloped and accepted right away. She does not see much of Izzy, though she does not notice this, as “dazzled” as she is by the other Richardsons, including the handsome Trip. She spends whole days at the Richardson house, on Moody’s invitation. She is impressed by Mr. and Mrs. Richardsons’ confidence and high-powered jobs—he is a lawyer, and she is a journalist for the local newspaper. The Richardsons “kn[o]w important people” and the even Lexie and Trip have a “sureness” about them. Pearl wonders where their “ease come[s] from.”
The Richardsons represent all the things that Pearl has never known—order, familial identity, wealth, and not just comfort but luxury. Her physical infatuation with Trip, too, becomes a large part of what draws her to the Richardson household. Pearl’s life has been marked by transience and uncertainty, and the “sureness” that the Richardson children have represents a kind of stability she has never before known or even seen.
The Richardson house is filled with luxurious furniture and decorations, and absolutely everything has an order to it. Their home is full of trinkets and souvenirs from far-off places, accrued through years of family vacations, and Pearl is amazed by how embedded their family is in their home. The affectionate and fascinating Mrs. Richardson is of particular interest to Pearl, who likens her to a TV mom like Mrs. Brady from The Brady Brunch.
A mother figure who falls in line with the expected behaviors of a “TV mom” is entirely foreign to Pearl’s lived experience. Her fascination with Mrs. Richardson foreshadows complications to come in Mia and Pearl’s own relationship, resulting from this disruption in what Pearl sees mothers can be.
Mia notices her daughter’s burgeoning “infatuation” with the Richardson family. At first she is happy and grateful to see Pearl making friends, especially with the sensitive Moody. Mia feels guilty for having made Pearl live according to her own desires and decides not to question her daughter’s new fascination. Soon, though, she becomes worried by the influence the Richardsons have on Pearl, and how Pearl has started to talk about them in an obsessive way. However, feeling guilty for having moved Pearl around so much and often forcing her into isolation, Mia says nothing.
Mia’s transient existence has kept Pearl from developing close relationships in the many places they’ve lived. The Richardsons represent the opposite of the identity Mia has tried to instill in her daughter, but she can concede that Pearl having some order and stability might be good—though her daughter’s head-over-heels obsession raises some red flags.
At school, Pearl and Moody are in almost all of the same classes. Moody guides Pearl through her first couple of weeks, but she is soon able to navigate things on her own. After school, Pearl spends her afternoons watching Jerry Springer with the Richardson children, who watch the program voyeuristically and with great fascination, as if it is “a psychological study” or “anthropology.” Lexie and Trip joke that their younger sister Izzy, who doesn’t enjoy watching the show, will soon be on Springer herself. They recount to Pearl Izzy’s many acts of rebellion throughout the years, including a protest at a dance recital and an attempt to free cats from the local Humane Society. Moody defends his younger sister in the face of his siblings’ cruelty. Watching an episode about race, Lexie remarks that they are all lucky to live in Shaker Heights where no one “sees” race—Lexie’s boyfriend, Brian, is black, and she says that nobody “gives a crap” about the fact that the two of them are together.
Pearl is grateful for the order and stability school represents. Meanwhile, the Richardson children’s obsession with Jerry Springer represents their underlying desire for and fascination with chaos and disruption. Izzy, already a true disruptor herself, has no need for the program—or perhaps she senses the voyeuristic nature of her siblings’ viewing habit, in which they treat the subjects of the show more like animals than people with complex identities. Lexie’s perspective on the absence of race as an issue in Shaker Heights both betrays the vacuum of privilege she has lived in, and also foreshadows the major questions of identity, heritage, and assimilation soon to come—both for Pearl and for several other characters throughout the novel.
Lexie asks Pearl, in the middle of another Jerry Springer episode—this time, about paternity—who her real father is. Pearl does not know. Lexie wonders aloud if Pearl’s father is dead or alive, an old boyfriend of her mother’s or a “rap[ist.]” Trip attempts to silence Lexie, but Lexie insists she was only joking. Pearl realizes that her father could indeed be anybody, though Lexie’s questions are “nothing Pearl ha[sn’t] thought herself.” Pearl realizes that any time she has asked Mia about her identity, her mother has deflected and refused to answer, joking that she found Pearl in a “bargain bin” or a “cabbage patch.”
For the Richardsons, who have a long history in Shaker Heights and who are able to trace their heritage back for generations, identity is grounded in knowing one’s roots—it’s another method of asserting order and, if not control, then a sense that things are regulated. Pearl is unable to do this, but suddenly wonders if this is the answer to forming an identity after all.
That night, back at home, Pearl asks her mother if she was wanted as a baby. Mia begins crying, which shocks Pearl, and tells her that she was wanted “very, very much” before quickly leaving the room.