Only Child by Rhiannon Navin | SLJ Review

In this gut-wrenching debut novel, readers meet Zachary Taylor, a first grader, just as his 10-year-old brother is gunned down in a school shooting.

redstarNAVIN, Rhiannon. Only Child. 304p. Knopf. Feb. 2018. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9781524733353.

In this gut-wrenching debut novel, readers meet Zachary Taylor, a first grader, just as his 10-year-old brother is gunned down in a school shooting. The book begins with Zach and his classmates hiding in the classroom closet with their terrified teacher. That experience is riveting, as is the following account of a family, broken by needless violence, desperately trying to cope. Zach’s murdered brother, Andy, was a difficult child, who had oppositional defiant disorder and, as a result, anger and behavior issues. His parents grieve, but Zach is initially glad that his mean brother is not around anymore. However, the gentle themes of loyalty, love, and good versus evil found in Zach’s favorite books, Mary Pope Osborne’s “The Magic Treehouse” series, resonate for Zach and help him to understand that his family had issues because of Andy’s behavioral problems, but they all loved Andy regardless. The first-person narration reflects six-year-old Zach’s limited perspective of the world. Teens may initially find the somewhat stilted language distracting, but they will soon become absorbed. Zach’s voice and his parents’ emotions are genuine. On a par with John Green’s evocative writing, Navin’s tale can be a difficult read. But this work is an important reflection of the culture, with school shootings as commonplace as they are. VERDICT For teens who appreciate intense emotional stories and those who feel compelled to read about this new normal, such as in Marieke ­Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends.–Gretchen Crowley, formerly at Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA This review was published in the School Library Journal May 2018 issue.

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