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by Keith Donohue

Pub Date: March 3rd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-45025-8
Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Donohue’s second novel (The Stolen Child, 2006) concerns a mysterious child who attempts to repair a broken family.

When a runaway child calling herself Norah Quinn shows up on the elderly Margaret’s front steps on a cold winter night, Margaret instinctually takes her in with hardly any questions asked. It is 1985, though Margaret’s formal speech sounds practically archaic, and Norah’s alternating precocious and childlike mannerisms are unnatural. Norah claims to be the daughter of Margaret’s daughter, Erica, who ran away from home as a teenager in the ’60s to join a cult revolutionary group, the Angels of Destruction. Norah quickly makes an indelible impression on Margaret, as well as a fellow third-grader, Sean. Norah and Sean get into scrapes suitable to their age, but their dialogue, internal thoughts and certain actions are entirely inappropriate for nine-year-olds. Despite the bizarre circumstances, Norah quickly feels at home and the reclusive widow Margaret feels a void has been filled. But soon, Norah seems to be at the center of supernatural occurrences. She develops a tribe of followers, the religious connotations of which are uncomfortable at best, and makes enemies among the town parents while simultaneously orchestrating the search for Erica and holding steadfastly to her beliefs, never probed but left at the hackneyed “you need not see to believe.” Her mechanical displays of emotion are downright creepy, and many of her “grand plans” aren’t grand at all. The premise that Norah will rebuild the Quinn family is not supported by the plot; other characters prove to be bigger players in that mission. It is the unseen catalyst for all of these events, Erica, whose story proves the most fascinating.

With ghostly visions and otherworldly experiences throughout, the story occupies both real and imagined worlds, but it fails to do so in a captivating or credulous way, and the entire narrative feels shrouded in clouds from beginning to end.