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Only Child: A novel by Rhiannon Navin
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Only Child: A novel

by Rhiannon Navin

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Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
This story about a horrific school shooting and the aftermath is chilling and gut wrenching. The six year old boy's telling of the shooting experience is especially gripping. I read this book just weeks after the Parkland shooting which brought it even closer to home and to the reality we've dealt with since Columbine. It may stir too many strong emotions for some readers. It is well written and I recommend it highly. ( )
  ewhatley | Aug 16, 2018 |
This story starts with Miss Russell, first-grade teacher at McKinley Elementary School, hiding her pupils in the classroom closet and exhorting them to remain still and silent because there is a gunman in the school. The children haven’t seen him but they can hear the POP … POP… POP of the gun as the he seeks out his targets. Six-year-old Zach is squashed up next to his teacher, so close he can smell the coffee on her breath: he is feeling very scared. When a policeman finally arrives to say it is all over and to lead the class through the school corridors to safety of the local church, he tells the children not to look behind them – but Zach does look and sees people lying on the floor, surrounded by lots of blood. He doesn’t feel safe until his mother arrives at the church but, after hugging him, her first question is “where’s your brother?” Zach feels bad because he had no idea where 10-year-old Andy was, he hadn’t even thought about him. When his father arrives, Zach and his mother go to the hospital to see if Andy has been taken there whilst his father remains in the church in case Andy turns up. When he later joins them at the hospital, it is to share the shocking news that Andy was one of the children who had been killed.
Through the voice of Zach this moving story deals with the after effects on him and his family of the shooting and of the death of Andy. It soon becomes clear that Zach’s relationship with his brother had not been easy. Although very bright and excellent at sports, Andy had suffered from ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) and this meant that he was frequently bad-tempered, flew into rages most days and was often unkind to Zach, so Zach had cause to be wary of him. Andy’s challenging behaviour also meant that, all too often, his parents often argued about how best to deal with him and paid more attention to him than they did to well-behaved Zach. Hardly surprising then that, in the immediate aftermath of his brother’s death, Zach feels relief at his brother’s absence. Maybe home would now become a more peaceful place, with both parents able to show more interest in him and all his activities.
However, it soon becomes clear that, as his parents struggle with their own grief, Zach receives less, rather than more, attention and is left to cope on his own with the effects the shooting has had on him, his growing realisation that his brother is never coming back and his guilt that he had initially felt pleased that Andy has gone. He begins to find solace in the secret “safe place” he creates for himself in Andy’s closet, a place he would never have been allowed into in the past. In there he paints blocks of colour onto individual pieces of paper and sticks them onto the walls. These represent his wide and confusing range of feelings and being able to look at them helps him to start to understand them. He also takes solace in reading books out loud to his brother, gradually feeling a closer connection to him; he begins to forgive Andy his hurtful behaviour and to wish that he had understood his brother better. However, feeling increasingly isolated by the lack of any meaningful attention from his parents, he also starts to wet the bed and to have tantrums.
This story captures, in a very effective and heart-wrenching way, the struggles experienced by a young child when faced with such a violent death. It captures the confusion of a little boy trying to make sense of a world in which nothing is the same, where even his parents seem to have become different people. Through Zach’s innocent voice the reader is drawn into the very literal, black and white thinking of a six-year-old, an age when adult hypocrisy is recognised but not understood. For instance, at the funeral service Zach hates the fact that suddenly, the brother who had caused such trouble in the family, is now being described in glowing terms! His difficult and confusing journey through the early months of grief is very well-captured but doesn’t make for easy reading.
His parents, Melissa and Jim, are not unkind people but are drawing further and further apart as they struggle, in very different ways, with their own grief. Melissa, once she emerges from the drugged state in which she was kept in the immediate aftermath of Andy’s death, is focused on seeking retribution from the gunman’s parents, whom she blames for not having prevented the massacre. Jim, who initially does seem to try to offer support, eventually takes refuge in the routine of his job, although it becomes clear that this is a defence he has used in the past when avoiding conflict about how to manage Andy’s behaviour. His parents’ reactions leave Zach feeling unsupported and struggling to cope alone with his grief, his shame about starting to wet the bed and his violent, out of control feelings. There were moments when his increasing desperation felt almost unbearable and I felt like shouting at the parents, reminding them that they had another son, one who was still alive! However, the descriptions of their behaviour capture their struggles to come to terms with their elder son’s death and, most of the time, tempered my anger with them. There is no handbook for parents on how to deal with the death of a child, especially in such shocking circumstances. It was all too easy to be critical of Zach’s parents but none of us can possibly know how we would react in such a devastating situation, especially when there has been such a degree of ambivalence and tension in the relationship with the person who has died.
By using Zach’s innocent but, in many ways, uncompromising voice the author was able to explore how easy it is to lose sight of what is important in relationships and how adults can all too easily find ways to defend themselves against facing a loss which feels almost unbearable. For much of the time I think she managed to evoke an authentic and convincing voice, but there were moments when I had to suspend disbelief at some of the sophisticated metaphors and abstract thinking she attributed to him! However, this didn’t really reduce the overall impact of her sensitive, moving and thought-provoking story-telling and she certainly conveyed a very loud reminder that we need to remember to listen to children!
Although the final resolution felt just a bit too neat and overly-sentimental, it did reflect the fact that grief can become all-consuming, resulting in a lack of recognition of the feelings of others but that once people start listening to each other, it is possible to cope with grief and the mourning process in a more positive way. The hurt doesn’t disappear, but it can feel more bearable if it is shared.
This is an impressive debut novel from Rhiannon Nevin and would make an excellent choice for reading groups. ( )
  linda.a. | Jul 25, 2018 |
I started out really liking this book but as it went on I couldn’t buy into this being a 6 year old voice. I raised three children and have 3 grandchildren. At times Zach’s voice seemed spot-on. Other times his reasoning was just too sophisticated to be believable. Good idea and good attempt but not quite right. ( )
  dablackwood | Jun 9, 2018 |
Extremely topical and well-written book about school shootings in USA, as seen through the eye of a Grade 2 boy in the vein of Boy in Striped Pyjamas. The first page is brilliant with Zach describing his teacher's coffee breath as he hides in a cupboard with the rest of his class. Tragic tale in which Zach's brother is killed in the shooting which leads to a family in crisis - Zach retreating to hide in his brother's cupboard, a mother who wants to sue the parents of the shooter and a father who's extra-martial affair with the mother of one of his killed son's classmates comes to light when the mother kills herself. Gut -wrenching in parts, it looks at the guilt Zach feels over not particularly liking his brother and also the way the family kind of ignores him and his grief after the shooting. ( )
  nicsreads | Jun 6, 2018 |
A timely book. The narrator was a young boy and every now and then I thought some of the writing and thoughts may have been slightly too mature. It was an amazing read. Who is to blame, how to prevent the shootings in schools and how do people recover. ( )
  shazjhb | May 26, 2018 |
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Surviving a horrific school shooting, a six-year-old boy retreats into the world of books and art while making sobering observations about his mother's determination to prosecute the shooter's parents and the wider community's efforts to make sense of the tragedy.… (more)

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