Quirky and delightful, but not cloying or sentimental. There is so much love and celebration of eccentricity that I forgive some of the less plausible aspects (most of which would be eliminated if Lily were just a few years older than claimed).
Lily has an intense and loving relationship with her mother, despite being raised on secrets and collusion (mainly concerning her father, who has allegedly been away fighting the war all Lily's life until 1950 and beyond). Secrets continue throughout. Much later, Lily says "There is much precedent in the family for pretending that the dead have not died but are living in other cities".
They live in a poor Jewish area of the Bronx: "This Gothic housing complex, modelled emotionally as well as architecturally upon feudal times managed to capture the hopelessness of the era that inspired it" in an "apartment, dense in its atmosphere of solitude".
At the age of only 5, Lily takes on all the cooking and when she tells her mother about a graphic sexual encounter in the "psychotic shadows" of the park, the mother mentions it to the police but is completely blasé about any effects it may have on her young daughter.
When Lily is 8, her mother dies and her her two bachelor uncles sacrifice much of their own lives to move in to care for her.
"We establish a household where eccentricity is the norm". Uncle Gabe is an observant Jew who sings gospel, while Uncle Len has some odd ideas, despite being highly educated. For example, "'A pillow case is a lot like a duffel bag' Len said, the first of his equations that turn out not to work in my social life". But Lily isn't bogged down by such embarrassments.
"Without the possibility of assigning roles by gender, my uncles play mother and father, interchangeably... while they are learning how to raise a little girl... that little girl is learning how to manage two unmarried men in their mid-years, In the process, three disparate individuals... become a family." Domestic zeal coupled with ignorance results in some amusing disasters, coupled with the fact the uncles give young Lily a completely free rein with decorating and menu planning.
Later, their mother/Lily's grandmother moves in too, though she is madder and in a less benign way, stealing Lily's clothes and jewelery and living in a complete fantasy world. Instead of being displaced in her parents' affection by a baby, Lily is partially displaced in her uncles' attention by a batty old woman, though she is very understanding. "If tragedy has brought us together, it's comedy that keeps us close". The episode where her uncles try to teach her the facts of life is funny and sweet: they are embarrassed but pragmatic - and ultimately not very helpful. But Lily is bright and streetwise, so it doesn't matter too much.
Lily loves and is loved, but otherwise runs pretty wild, though the school authorities appear not to notice or care. Somehow she ends up with some education, some of which she applies retrospectively (pre-teen references to "Crime and Punishment" and 8 year-old familiarity with Shakespeare's sonnets spring to mind). She is conscious of her family's difference, and it even extends to their dog, which "looks out of kilter. She runs sideways, her rear end angling to the left". But Lily has a strategy of sorts, "In self-defence, I develop an eye for the irregularities on other children's lives".
Looking back, even Lily's mother is indistinct, "Her blurriness is profound, as if, at that time, she was so unsure of herself, that she could not be clearly photographed" and Lily realises the importance of bereavement, "We don't want to be entirely healed; our grief, now subdued and under control, keeps my mother within our family", and family, however unconventional, is what this book is all about.