The Summer of Owen Todd

224p. Farrar. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374305505.
RedReviewStarGr 5–8—It's the summer after fifth grade, and lifelong best friends Owen and Sean are looking forward to a vacation full of baseball, go-karts, beach trips, and, now that they are getting older, a bit more independence in their Cape Cod hometown. Things don't go as planned, however, when Sean's single mom hires Paul to help look after Sean, who depends on insulin injections to manage his diabetes, while she goes to work at a new job in a neighboring town. Paul, a friendly older guy from church, seems nice enough, if a little strange, but before long, Sean tells Owen about some uncomfortable incidents between them. As Paul's behavior escalates into child abuse and sexual assault, Sean continues to confide in Owen, but threatens suicide if Owen tells anyone else what is happening. The story is told from Owen's point of view as he struggles with how to handle the situation and what might happen if he breaks his promise to keep Sean's secret. Ultimately, witnessing Sean's abuse firsthand spurs Owen to action, and he records the assault on his father's cell phone before telling his parents everything. While doing so costs Owen his friendship with Sean, Paul is eventually arrested and Sean is able to get help. An author's note at the close of the book further encourages readers to speak out if they or someone they know is being abused, and includes contact information for RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network). The setting is particularly well drawn, and woven into the story are threads about family, friendship, trust, courage, and growing up.
VERDICT Unsettling and at times painful, this book offers an empathetic portrayal of a difficult and important subject.

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