A mother questions her relationships with family and friends after classmates accuse her autistic son of murdering a student.
Levin (California Street, 1992, etc.) produces a partnership between doubt and guilt in the story of Anna Kagen and her son, a fourth-grader who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. When the novel opens, Anna is accompanying her son’s class on a field trip to Minotaur Island, a preserve nestled in the San Francisco Bay. Her son, Jack, entertains his classmates with his many Aspy party tricks, like calculating days of the week on which friends’ birthdays will fall in the distant future. All is going well until Anna decides to let Jack visit the bathroom on his own. Her misjudgment sets in motion a series of events that wreaks havoc on her family’s lives. After Jack fails to return from the bathroom, Anna realizes that not only her son, but also three other boys are missing. When the boys are located, one is dead. The other children blame Jack, claiming he pushed the student into a ditch in anger. Anna is sure her son couldn’t be the culprit, but the other parents disagree, and a modern-day witch hunt ensues. Complicating matters further, Jack’s father, Alex Kagen, is the district attorney for San Francisco, and this is an election year. Suddenly, his opponents are using his son’s predicament as a campaign tactic. Alex’s rankings begin slipping, and his already strained relationship with his wife starts to crumble to bits. As Anna scrambles to clear her son’s name and questions whether she wants to save her marriage, the author provides intriguing and gut-wrenching information about hostilities toward children with disabilities. Through her fast-paced prose, engaging plot, and sharp insights, Levin underscores how intolerance and ignorance can cause difficult situations to spiral out of control (When a teacher on the field trip finds out the boys are missing, she squawks: “I told the principal last fall that it was a mistake to keep that Kagen boy on!”). In a friendly, nearly conversational style reminiscent of Liane Moriarty, Levin covers everything from social-climbing PTA moms in contemporary suburbia to a complex love affair and corrupt practices in the nation’s penal system.
A witty, modern voice delivers a captivating tale about a mysterious death that feels like a light read but soon submerges the reader deep into the throes of substance.