Debut novelist Sewell spins a tale of childhood sexual abuse and a quest for justice.
Summer camp should be full of good times that result in happy memories, but that’s not the case for 9-year-old Robert. The evil Mr. Diabolus, who also serves as the assistant principal at Robert’s school, punishes the boy over a trifling issue by first locking him in a closet, then whipping and raping him. Afterward, the boy, who was raised in a very strict Kentucky home, feels that he can’t tell anyone about the matter, although people around him sense that something is clearly wrong. Diabolus later attacks Robert again, this time at school, and when the boy’s anger boils over at home, he finally tells his parents about it. However, they don’t believe his story and severely punish him. The only joy he has in his life is a cute girl his own age named Ardee, but she soon moves away. Thoughts of her stay with Robert as the years go by, as do memories of his friend Willis, whom Diabolus also victimized. As an adult, Robert has taken up a habit of drinking to the point of passing out. Ardee reappears and proves to be a kind but no-nonsense savior. She leads him to a psychologist, Dr. Richie, who may help him cope with the abuse that threatens to haunt him for the rest of his life. Sewell paints a vivid, if frightening, picture of life in a conservative, religious Kentucky town. For example, the summers are depicted as so hot that the heat “barely abated below a thousand degrees, with humidity dense enough to write your name in the air.” As a child, Robert is truly trapped by the institutions of school, church, and home, and the author writes about this living nightmare in a quite graphic way. The scenes that demonstrate Robert’s compassion for Willis also stand out as being particularly heartfelt, as do the protagonist’s too-brief encounters with his psychologist. Sewell impresses with her unique narrative approach and dialogue, which breaks apart stereotypes about therapy. The novel’s latter half has Robert and Ardee plotting to bust the sexual predator, which is satisfying in a way, but the book might have benefited from spending more time on Robert’s healing process.A harrowing, sad, but ultimately hopeful novel about a survivor’s journey toward peace.