I believe this novel has earned Oates lots of praise. My sister lent it to me, and said that she wasn't too impressed by it, she found it too childish. At the time I didn't really see what she meant, but then I haven't read much Oates, only Big Mouth, Ugly Girl which is aimed at teens. I remembered a sort of childish style, but figured it was the genre (teen lit). Now I do see what she means. As an adult novel this comes across as a bit flat and over-simple. I don't know if I find it that strong and powerful as some of the reviewers seem to have done!
Nikki Eaton likes her life as the black sheep of the family, she loves her mother but is exasperated by her unspoken and spoken demands. One day she comes home and finds her mother murdered. The rest of the novel is about Nikki (and to a certain extent her goody-goody sister) coping with the grief, and also about Nikki discovering some things about her mother she never imagined. There is an idea in the book that it's good to be nice - Nikki's mother was very nice and caring, with empathy for the most stray of creatures - but it's not that well explored. In my opinion it's one of the books most interesting themes, but it gets lost a bit.
It's clearly quite personal though, and I did have the odd cry. Bits are more emotionally compelling than others.