Title: Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: A
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program
For fans of Room and the novels of Jodi Picoult, a dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children, narrated by a six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts, and the quietest voices speak the loudest.
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.
Rhiannon Navin’s debut novel, Only Child, is a poignant, heartrending and emotional story narrated by a six year old boy who survives a school shooting.
First grader Zach Taylor, his teacher Miss Russell and his classmates are among the survivors of a school shooting that takes the lives of nineteen classmates and educators. Zach is a very bright and observant young boy whose parents’ marriage is already a somewhat stressed before the shooting and in the aftermath, they leave him to cope with the tragedy on his own. His questions are heartbreaking as he tries to make sense of what happened especially when he learns the identity of the shooter. Zach is embarrassed when he regresses to what he considers to be “baby” behavior and he takes comfort in the hideout he has created for himself. He is also confused by the changes in his mother but his father is surprisingly understanding of what Zach is experiencing. Finding solace in a set of children’s books, Zach tries to apply the insights he gleans from the stories to restore happiness to his family.
Although quite smart, Zach’s worldview is simple and lacking pretense. He is quite honest about his perceptions of the shooting and its impact on his family. His little world is shattered and he cannot understand why his mom’s reaction is so different than his and his father’s. Although he was quite close to his mom before this life altering event, he is stunned by how drastically his sweet and caring mom’s behavior becomes in the days, weeks and months following the shooting. Zach loves his dad, but his father’s long commute and work schedule leave little time for them to spend together. However after the tragic incident, his dad’s presence reassuring.
Zach’s astute observations, conclusions and decisions are age appropriate. While some of what he observes goes over his head, readers will definitely understand the implications. Quickly picking up on the tension between his parents, he breaks down their behavior into something only he can understand and he is quick to pick up on the subtle nuances of impending trouble. Zach’s parents are so consumed by their own struggles to cope, he is left to navigate the morass of his emotions on his own. His coping mechanisms are heartbreaking yet effective and his explanations are guaranteed to make even the most stoic reader shed a few tears (especially his scenes with his dad in his hideout). As Zach continues to watch his family fall apart, he decides on a course of action to heal the people he loves.
Only Child is an absolutely brilliant novel that is unique, deeply affecting and quite thought-provoking. Zach’s narration is incredibly compelling and viewing the world through his young eyes is often quite perceptive. Rhiannon Navin is an immensely gifted storyteller who evokes empathy and deep emotion in this sorrowful yet ultimately uplifting story.