A novel examines unspeakable crimes, consequences, and punishments affecting children and young teens in an Arizona barrio.
Madison Elementary School Principal Samantha Ryan fights for justice, not just for her two adopted daughters, victims of sexual and physical abuse, but also for her students and other children who encounter bullying and mistreatment while attending class. Set over a three-day period, this story covers Sam’s testimony against a murderous pedophile and details what happens when the accused goes on a rampage in the courtroom. It also addresses Sam’s efforts to stop the abuse a gang of teenagers inflicts on her older, already traumatized daughter at her middle school (the culprits even post videos of their actions), and how Sam’s involvement in these matters affects her marriage. Topics woven into the tale include violent classroom bullying, the effects of postpartum depression on infant development, sexual predation of children, and parental responsibilities (“There are signs that parents need to watch for....For example, if someone gives your child gifts, extra attention, affection, and spends time with her or him frequently, parents should consider that as a strong clue that something might be going on. And the parents need to be vigilant”). This book is the fourth installment in The Old Pueblo series by Hart (Finding Justice, 2015, etc.). Although Sam’s dedication to righting the wrongs she encounters is made abundantly clear, the book is overlong, with the narrative slowed by unnecessary recaps and digressions on subjects like sudden infant death syndrome and gluten allergy. Shifts in point of view and the large cast of characters make the story hard to track at times, and dialogue often reads like an interrogation, even outside the courtroom. In particular, some sections of children’s dialogue don’t ring true, as when a 5-year-old says, “Thank you for saying that, Gram.” Some principal characters need more development; the villains are monsters with insufficient motivations presented for their evildoing, while Sam and her husband are almost too good to be true. On one level, this book, which is not for the faint of heart, works as a public service message, a wake-up call to parents about what their children could experience if left unprotected. While the author bravely tackles serious subjects that need illuminating, a subtler approach would get the message across more effectively.
A vivid and earnest story about the terrible ways children can be violated that lacks fully developed characters.