Mormon teen’s sisters meet grisly deaths, resulting in a slow slog over the much-trod territory of post-traumatic stress.
Mitchard (The Breakdown Lane, 2005, etc.) is defter with melodrama that admits some farce, an element sorely lacking in this glacially paced chronicle of slaughter’s aftermath. Twelve-year-old Veronica (Ronnie) Swan is playfully hiding from her sisters in a shed near the Swan family’s Utah home. She emerges to carnage: Scott Early, a pharmacy student on a psychotic rampage, has murdered her sisters with her father’s weeding scythe, in what the media will call the Grim Reaper slayings. The Swans are victimized again when Early’s diagnosis of schizophrenia means he is incompetent to stand trial. Instead, he is committed for four years—a lenient sentence, but a convenient one, plot-wise. The author offers an interminable depiction of the depressing numbness of the Swans’ days (Papa goes for long walks at night, Mama takes to her bed). Eventually the parents decide that forgiving Early is the only way the family can find release, but Ronnie refuses to participate in the therapeutic meeting with Early and his wife, Kelly. The moribund drama almost revives when Ronnie, 16, decamps for California, ostensibly to train as a paramedic and raise funds for college and medical school. Early, now medicated and released, is living with Kelly in San Diego, and Ronnie contrives to become, under assumed name and hairdo, nanny to their infant, Juliet. While saving lives as an apprentice EMT, Ronnie has vague plans to avenge her sisters’ deaths or rescue adorable Juliet by kidnapping her. But Mitchard pulls back before things can get remotely nefarious. Instead, there’s—you guessed it—peace and reconciliation. The Mormon aspect adds no resonance. The Swans might as well be Lutherans, like Early.
Thinly conceived and timidly executed.