Study Guide

Big Little Lies Summary

By Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies Summary

It's back to school time again in Pirriwee, an adorable hamlet on the coast of Australia. That means that all the moms and dads are sending their kiddos to Pirriwee Public for orientation. It's super cute.

Madeline, brassy and bossy and totally hilarious, is one of the kindergarten moms. She befriends Jane, who's a shy and retiring young mom with a tendency to speak softly and wear plain t-shirts. They're basically total opposites…and they attract. It's instant friendship.

Drinking coffee at town hotspot Blue Blues, they meet up with Celeste, a gorgeous, crazy-rich woman with a doting husband. Yeah, they're a teensy bit jealous of Celeste…but then again, everyone is. The women become a trio of buddies.

So when Jane's son Ziggy is accused of choking the little daughter of local power player Renata, Madeline and Celeste still remain loyal. Their friendship intensifies as they thwart Renata's schemes of social ostracizing and black-listing young Ziggy.

While this is going on, we learn about the private lives and problems of these three women. Let's just say that not one of them is having an easy time at the moment.

Madeline has three kids, including Abigail, a fourteen-year-old from a previous marriage. The marriage ended when the dude flat-out left Madeline and her baby to run off to Bali. But now the scumbag has reformed himself, come back to Pirriwee, and shacked up with a new wife, Bonnie, a yoga-toned young hippy who never seems to lose her temper. And, lo and behold, rebellious Abigail idolizes Bonnie and wants to spent all her time with Madeline's ex. Madeline is hurt beyond belief, and is not doing too good of a job playing cool, calm, and collected. In fact, you can basically see the steam coming out of her ears.

Jane is haunted by her past…and what that past might mean for her present. Here's the deal: Jane got pregnant at nineteen, when she had a one-night stand with a guy named Saxon Banks, who physically and verbally assaulted her. She's become withdrawn, and developed a bit of an eating disorder as a result. But she hadn't worried about what implications one night with a psychopath might have had on her son Ziggy until now. If he really is guilty of choking defenseless little kindergarten girls, then maybe his father's genes are to blame.

Celeste's life looks perfect, but it's actually an absolute nightmare. Her husband Perry is abusive, and he's just getting worse—the beatings are more frequent, more violent, and more terrifying. Celeste finally sees a counselor, who tells her to get out ASAP. This means renting and furnishing an apartment that can serve as an escape hatch. She'll take her twin sons with her when she goes.

The tension in the powder keg of Pirriwee just keeps building. Renata has created a petition calling for Ziggy's expulsion, since her daughter has continued being bullied. Ziggy still denies bullying. Abigail, who now lives full time with Bonnie and Madeline's ex, has started a charity project—auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder to raise awareness about sex slavery. Celeste, her new apartment fully furnished, is planning on leaving when Perry goes on his next business trip. She's talked with Jane about Saxon Banks—it turns out that Saxon Banks is Perry's first cousin. (Yikes.)

The gang all convenes on Trivia Night, when everyone is dressed up as either Audrey Hepburn or Elvis Presley. Jane is with her new crush. Madeline feels victorious because Abigail was convinced to take down the virginity auction website. Celeste has told Perry it's over—she's leaving him. The straw that broke the camel's back? It turns out that Celeste's son Max, inspired by seeing his dad beat his mom, is the bully that's been assaulting girls at school. Ick.

All of our characters finally get together, and Jane is shocked—the guy who said his name was Saxon Banks is actually…Celeste's husband Perry. When he's called out, Perry snaps, hitting Celeste in front of everyone. Enraged, Bonnie (of all people) pushes Perry, and he ends up falling over the balcony to his death.

When the dust settles, everyone's lives are…better. It seems that getting rid of the town psychopath does everyone a bit of good. Madeline is happy because Abigail comes back to live with her. Jane and her crush finally smooch, and Renata apologies for blacklisting Ziggy. And Celeste starts speaking out about domestic violence, and how it can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.