A young girl witnesses a crime at her small-town church in the 1950s, and the fallout swells to envelop the entire town.
In Worthington’s debut novel, 8-year-old Ruth Anne Carver grows up quickly after witnessing the molestation of a young boy at her church. Set in a small Missouri town, the novel briefly introduces Ruth Anne’s insular and innocent world of Episcopal church picnics, neighborhood playmates and choir practice, before she witnesses the crime and loses faith in her church and town. Ruth Anne does not immediately understand the implications of what she saw, but recognizes that it shouldn’t have happened. Ruth Anne keeps the crime a secret until a shocking murder rocks the town. She’s forced to testify about what she witnessed, and her honest testimony turns her family into outsiders. The premise isn’t especially original, but Worthington’s decision to tell the story from Ruth Anne’s perspective is smart. She captures Ruth Anne’s voice well and gives her a believable naïveté that fuels the plot and gives the reader hints to understand what’s going on even when Ruth Anne herself doesn’t. Ruth Anne’s best friend, worldly troublemaker Bobby Jo, provides an effective foil and helps give Ruth Anne depth. Other characters don’t fare as well—Ruth Anne’s siblings just seem there to fill space and the church officials affected by the crime don’t feel fully formed. While this could be the result of a young narrator, greater complexity and an understanding of characters’ motives would be welcome. Perhaps the strongest character is the setting; the small town of Athens is so richly drawn, with its gossipy housewives and working fathers, that it’s easy to imagine being there, looking over Ruth Anne’s shoulder as her safe world collapses around her.
A well-written novel with a relatable main character, Worthington’s story overcomes flat supporting characters to be an engrossing page-turner.