This book is not worth reading. If you are considering it, just know that after reading 640 pages, you still don't find out who murdered Robin Cleve Dufresnes. You are stuck jumping around to a myriad of characters with no real ending in sight. When you do get to the end you are going to want to throw this book across the room and ask was that it? There is no character development. The flow is non-existent. We jump back and forth among different times in this book and between characters so it's really hard to even recall who is who and who did what to who after a while.
"The Little Friend" is supposed to be about the aftermath of the Cleve family trying to put themselves back together after Robin Cleve Dufresnes is found murdered in the front yard. The book starts off on his last day and we get to see why so many in the family loved Robin. When he is found murdered, there is an initial investigation that turned up no suspects. The death left Robin's mother, Charlotte, devastated and the woman for all intents has turned into a living ghost. Robin's father, Dixon, who didn't really care about his family at all prior to Robin's death, disappears to another state entirely and only returns home for the holidays. It really is Charlotte's mother and her aunts that take over raising her two daughters, Alison and Harriet. After the prologue we get into the here and now and find out that Alison is 16 and Harriet is 12.
If you have to call someone the main character of the book, it would be Robin's younger sister Harriet. Harriet decides that she is going to solve the mystery of who killed her brother. When her family's maid, Ida Rhew talks about how Robin was always fighting with a local boy named Daniel Ratliff. Ida and others have looked down their noses at the Ratliff family and there are hints that he was jealous of Robin. Harriet through no evidence at all decides that Daniel murdered her brother so she is going to kill him. No this makes zero sense and since Harriet barely seems to like anyone in this book, it's odd she decided she is going to avenge her brother who has been dead for 12 years.
Harriet is annoying. Tartt shows her nastiness throughout this book. And then something changes and we are supposed to feel for her when the family's maid quits. Eventually this turns into a coming of age story for Harriet, but then we go back to the ridiculous subplot with her trying to kill Daniel. Tartt does foreshadow that Harriet's life gets worse after this summer and she can pinpoint the exact time when things started to go badly for her. Her side kick in arms to this mess is a boy named Hely. Hely sucks and is focused on either making Harriet take notice of him and or annoying her throughout this book. Hely agrees to help Harriet with the killing of Daniel because he has zero sense too.
Besides following Harriet and her misadventures, we also follow Harriet's grandmother, Edie, and the aunts, Libby, Adelaide, and Tat. The book jumps around between them and also Daniel and his family too. If this has just been a book focused on a southern family in the 1970s it maybe would have worked, instead we have the murder mystery plot with a hundred other things going on.
The book setting is the 1970s in Alexandria, Mississippi. There is some instances where I thought I was reading "The Help" when we get into the dynamics of white children and their black maids. Harriet doesn't seem to pay any attention to her family's maid, until through a series of misunderstandings, Harriet causes Ida Rhew to get dismissed. Her great aunts don't really get why she's upset, except for one, and Harriet refuses to say goodbye to Ida Rhew and we find out regrets it for the rest of her life.
The ending was just a mess. Things happen. There are red herrings. And then the book clunks to a close.