Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community.
While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art.
Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.
Only Child offered me a fresh and novel perspective on what is quite a topical matter which is occuring, unfortunately, with increasing amplitude. When I hear about such an horrific event in the news, I often find myself thinking about the motive of the shooter, why he committed this senseless act, and I think about the people they killed and who don’t get to live their lives, being taken away so young. Not nearly often enough do I think about the aftermath, about the families and how they need to keep on living, about the brothers and sisters and how their world has irrevocably changed. How do they deal with this?
It was an excellent idea to tell this story through the eyes of 7 year old Zach, because he was affected as well and while adults would be able to rationalize everything and explain their feelings away, his innocence and honesty are very disarming, his naive perspective, trying to make sense of it all, utterly endearing. I couldn’t help but develop a love for him and the connection with him made it all the more touching. I felt sad for the parents as well but my heart broke the way they are occupied with either seeking revenge or escaping from the harsh reality into their work, ignoring a little boy’s feelings and needs.
Zach’s confusion felt real (he describes the gathering after the funeral as a ‘party’), he doesn’t understand what is happening to his family and why his parents react the way they do, why he suddenly wets the bed again or why he gets angry very suddenly. Unfortunately for little Zach, his parents each grieve in their own way and he’s sort of left on his own devices. I saw him struggle with his emotions because they are all mixed up but he works through it on his own, he’s his own little therapist and finds a clever way to seperate his emotions in a clear way. To make it easier for himself he links colours to his emotions, like the green colour is for anger because it makes him think of the Hulk.
All he really wants is for everyone to be happy again and he finds the answers in his Magic Treehouse books where each book of the series reveals a secret to happiness. All they have to do is do exactly what the book says but when his parents don’t even listen to him he has to take drastic measures. He’s courageous and brave and is sure to tug at your heartstrings.
This was a heartfelt and powerful debut about grief and the pursuit of happiness. I hope people will take more notice and it’ll deepen the understanding of how grief affects both adults and children.
I received a free copy of this novel from Pan Macmillan in exchange for my honest opinion.
Check out the other stops of the blog tour as well. Coming up tomorrow: The Bibliophile Chronicles