In this debut legal drama, a Vermont attorney defends the First Amendment in two cases, one of which involves the heartbreaking death of a high schooler.
The body of 17-year-old Kerry Pearson is discovered in Montpelier’s Mahady Park at the base of a sheer granite outcrop. The cause of death was a fall from the top of the cliff. There’s no sign of foul play, and after a note is found in her purse (“I can’t go on anymore. I’m sorry”), the tragedy is ruled a suicide. But Kerry’s mother finds a private Facebook message from Kerry’s friend Ricky Stillwell, a born-again Christian, telling her that being gay is a sin and that perhaps it would be best if she were outed at school. The school board decides that Ricky should be expelled even though his missive never appeared publicly and was written from his home computer. First Amendment advocate Sam Jacobson takes Ricky on as a client in his lawsuit against the school despite his horror at Ricky’s behavior. Sam is also representing Lucy Cross, who’s suing the town of Jefferson over its inclusion of an opening prayer at its annual town meeting; the case is scheduled to be heard by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City. Lambek has been a lawyer in Vermont for the past quarter-century, which allows him to bring a fine sense of authenticity to this tale. It’s a deftly nuanced, multilayered narrative that’s as much about the complex relationships among its many supporting characters as it is about courtroom maneuvers. For example, Sam’s law partner, Alicia Santana, is married to Barb Laval, who, in turn, is the assistant to high school principal Gayle Peters, who asks the firm to represent her in a lawsuit against the school board. He depicts Sam as someone who usually sees the glass as half-empty, and his mix of self-doubt and relentless devotion to family, friends, and principles is endearing. The courtroom preparations and arguments, laced with references to real-life cases, are satisfying and engaging, as well.
A novel with articulate, well-paced, and thoughtful social commentary—and a few surprises along the way.