Thursday, May 8, 2008


I felt almost voyeuristic while reading Katrina Kittle's The Kindness of Strangers about child molestation. The book focuses on a neighboring family that has to come to terms with what has been happening right under their noses. Sarah is a widow whose best friend Courtney has apparently videotaped her husband's "parties" for the past four years, in which he has sexually abused their young son Jordan. The message is clear: the problem of child molestation is very widespread, and it could be happening in a family that you think you know. Kittle does a great job of pairing gruesome and heartbreaking subject matter with suspense and effectively conveys Sarah's disbelief. Guilt-ridden for their oblivion, Sarah and her two sons reevaluate the clues that they ignored. As a policeman tells them, though, the clues are recognizable as such only in hindsight. Each chapter describes the perspective of one character, and the use of spelling words to put big words into the heads of eleven-year-olds seemed to me alternately clever and cutesy. How likely is it that so young a boy would identify a realization as an epiphany? Plus, Jordan is so socially and emotionally maimed, with no concept of appropriate behavior, that the outcome seemed a little too tidy. What happens to his mother is entirely predictable. My favorite observation, though, made by one of Sarah's sons near the end of the book, was that if their father, Sarah's husband, were still alive they would not have been able to help Jordan to the extent that they did. Their own grief made them stronger.

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