A ten-year-old girl’s murder is witnessed by her autistic schoolmate in this creepy, absorbing literary thriller.
McGovern (The Art of Seeing, 2002), herself the mother of an autistic child, builds wrenching drama from her rich premise: Beautiful, unreachable Adam had entered the woods bordering his school with the victim, but cannot communicate what he may have seen or heard. As details accumulate from the subsequent police investigation, we also get gradual disclosures about Adam’s single mother, Cara, in particular her past and present attempts to give her son a life while simultaneously protecting him from the pressures and demands of a world he inhabits and comprehends only selectively. Had the author focused more tightly on this poignant mother-son relationship, she might have avoided the diffusion of the story’s central mystery among too many other interconnected characters: troubled adolescent boy Morgan, whose willed friendship with Adam promises him much-needed expiation for his own “crime”; Cara’s former childhood friend Suzette, sunk in agoraphobia and clinical depression; their common friend Kevin, brain-damaged in a childhood bicycle accident and haunted by unrealized possibilities; and endangered schoolboy Chris, both pathetic victim and calculating, determined avenger. Their stories help make this a genuine page-turner, and McGovern springs numerous plot-worthy surprises. But their narrow suburban world is populated by an excessive number of damaged souls laboring to rebuild their lives; it all reads too much as case study. Nevertheless, the narrative moves like a freight train, and its conclusion will leave no reader unmoved. The unforgettable Adam is both a charmer and, in his distinctively quiet way, a hero.
Despite some flaws, a generally successful combination of compassionate domestic realism and pulse-rattling suspense.