The Kingdom of Childhood
by Rebecca Coleman
Release Date: September 27th, 2011
2011 MIRA Books
Softcover Edition; 352 Pages
Source: Review Copy from Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc.
4 / 5 Stars
This is the story of a boy and a woman; sixteen-year-old Zach Patterson, uprooted and struggling to reconcile his knowledge of his mother's extramarital affair, and Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher watching her family unravel before her eyes. Thrown together to organize a fundraiser for their failing private school and bonded by loneliness, they begin an affair that at first thrills, then corrupts each of them. Judy sees in Zachthe elements of a young man she loved as a child, but what Zach does not realize is that their relationship is, for Judy, only the latest in a lifetime of disturbing secrets.
Rebecca Coleman's manuscript for The Kingdom of Childhood was a semifinalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. An emotionally tense, increasingly chilling work of fiction set in the controversial Waldorf school community, it is equal parts enchanting and unsettling and is sure to be a much discussed and much-debated novel.
"Do you remember," I asked, "when I took you out for coffee, back before, and yourubbed my feet, and you asked me—"
"Why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to see what you would do."
I grinned. "After I apologized a dozen times for that episode in the playhouse? That's not very nice."
*Head over to READERGIRLS on October 20th for the next installment from THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD.*
The Kingdom of Childhood is one of those books that hooked me pretty much from the beginning, and despite my own feelings to the contrary and the fact that I was at complete odds with the main character, I became enthralled in the story and the events, in the same way that I would read a newspaper story that shocked me or caused me nothing but consternation. It's the same feeling you get when you see something you don't want to watch or see, but you peek through your fingers anyways because you just can't help yourself. And as a teacher, all I could think of all the way through the novel was, What were you thinking????
The novel was well-written, with a style that was both gripping and intense, even though it might be questionable at times when told from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old boy. Clues and information were doled out carefully, little tidbits at a time, until the whole picture finally emerged towards the end. Carefully crafted, I have to admit it drew me in quite successfully right from the beginning, even as I was disgusted and horrified by some of the events. Even then, the scenes were rather carefully done, lending the horror not through description but through the emotions that were presented and the aftermath of the actions as well as the ripple effects of the characters and their choices. While I couldn't necessarily connect on an emotional level with some of the characters as I didn't particularly identify with their choices, I definitely understood the raw emotions and the toll it took on a subconscious level as the lying and cheating progressed.
I do have to admit that there was no love lost for me for the main character Judy. I found her psychotic, selfish, and sometimes just plain cruel towards others, and while there may have been moments of sympathy, such as when she was dealing with the death of her closest friend, they were quickly replaced with other emotions as I read through the novel. I was filled with trepidation as I wondered what she would do next, especially as I learned the why she hates the smell of gasoline so much. I do understand the attraction that Zach and Judy may have had for each other initially, Judy being lonely and starved for attention in a marriage that is falling apart, and Zach, lonely himself, questioning his family life as he begins a new school year in new surroundings, but I'm not sure how the line was crossed and why. As a teacher myself, that line is so strong and impregnable, I couldn't imagine ever crossing it, and all I wanted to do was shake Judy uncontrollably. Once that line is crossed, there is no going back. And Judy, as we learn more about her, is downright crazy. I'm sorry if that offends anyone, so I should use the more politically correct terminology, and perhaps say she is mentally unstable in a powerful way. I did like the fact that the principal character was a woman, as it's often the males who are seen as the perpretrators, and I'm glad that Ms. Coleman highlights the fact that women can use and abuse as well.
The Kingdom of Childhood is one of those novels that I kept thinking about, even days later, and with moments that are disturbing and thought-provoking, certainly highlight some issues that are present in this society. Using a lot of figurative language and similes, Ms. Coleman's novel definitely highlights how a woman in an authoritative position can abuse her authority in order to get what she wants, and the after effects of such a relationship. It makes for some interesting reading and would be a great book club novel. It is the downward spiral of a woman who is losing control of everything around her as she enters a relationship that is not only illicit but illegal, and the damaging effects it has one everyone around them. The Kingdom of Childhood is well worth a look.