A young boy struggles to find healing in the wake of multiple traumas in Wong’s sweet, personable debut novel.
Thirteen-year-old Cedric is a budding piano prodigy and athlete who experiences unthinkable tragedy when both of his parents are killed in a car crash which only he survives (“In an instant, he saw the bonnet, headlamps and bumper coming at him like the face and jaw of a malicious dinosaur”). His right hand is crippled and, more alarmingly, he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. He can neither process nor speak of his feelings of grief and anger; in fact, he can’t speak at all. In the wake of his mental turmoil, he must also deal with physical upheaval when he’s sent from his home in Hong Kong to Birmingham, England. There, he lives with his godfather, Stephen, who’s the headmaster at his new boarding school. Dealing with a new environment while surrounded by strangers initially worsens Cedric’s mental withdrawal and bedevils his attempts at speech. But one of his contemporaries quickly befriends him—the “angelic” Allison. She also has trouble speaking, but in her case, it’s because a brain tumor is gradually stealing what ability she has. As fate would have it, though, she’s a superlative singer, and she and Cedric gradually form a musical bond that enables them to begin the process of recovery while encouraging each other though art. Wong handles the delicate subject of juvenile PTSD with a deft hand, making Cedric’s suffering and recovery entirely believable. Likewise, the boy’s relationship to music also comes across as plausible. Some of the book’s dialogue can be a bit stilted at times, but it still ably captures the tone of interactions between young people. The book also sensitively draws a portrait of a resilient mind slowly piecing itself back together in the wake of disruption. “ ‘Hope’ is the key word,” Cedric observes after meeting with one of his doctors, and thanks to Wong’s sincerity and careful plot development, readers will readily believe it.
A complicated and ultimately uplifting story of one boy’s recovery from the worst that life can throw at him.