What’s it all about?:
For readers of Room and The Girls, a dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children, narrated by a seven-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest.
Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.
What did WE think?:
CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?
BETH: Wow. As soon as I read the initial few chapters I have to admit, I found it a struggle to put it down. It begins with Zach and his teacher in a closet desperately hiding from a gunman in their school with numerous other children and it was so powerful and moving I had trouble catching my breath at points. I have such strong opinions on gun violence myself and to read a book about a school shooting was poignant and troubling. It certainly left its impression on me.
BETH: As a teacher yourself, how was the reading experience of Only Child for you?
CHRISSI: Absolutely terrifying. Absolutely. It is my worst fear. I can’t even begin to imagine something this awful happening in my classroom which I try to create as a home away from home. Like many other educators, our classroom is our home and a place for the children to feel safe. A teacher likes to control their classroom and rightly so. Something this horrific makes you lose control and that is terrifying. I hope I am never in the position where I have to save my children’s lives. I’m not sure I could go back to the classroom if that happened to me. I’m in awe of educators that do return to the classroom. I can’t even begin to imagine how much strength that takes. Gun crime is horrific and I feel blessed that I work in a country where this kind of crime is incredibly rare. It doesn’t mean that dangerous things wouldn’t happen in the classroom. We’ve even had to develop a lock down policy, just in case, which is a terrifying idea. It really would be my worst nightmare.
Excuse my little rant. Aside from the fear it gave me, this book was utterly compelling to read. I was really impressed with Zach’s narration. How clever to tell the story from his point of view. It’s horrifying what children go through when this happens in their safe place. 😦
CHRISSI: Many books have been written about gun crime, but rarely from the point of view of a child as young as Zach. What did you make of Zach’s narration?
BETH: That’s true! I never realised that before. I think writing it from the point of view of a child was an incredibly clever thing for the author to do. In a way, it made it more horrific as you were seeing it directly through a child’s eyes and although in some instances, Zach came across a little older than his years, I think these parts were necessary so we could feel the full impact of what he has been through, how he continues to suffer and how he manages to pull himself and his family through the other side.
BETH: How do you think Zach, his mother and his father differed in their experiences of grief?
CHRISSI: Zach, his mother and his father definitely differed in their experiences of grief. Grief affects in all in different ways. Zach has nightmares, bed-wetting and feels guilt because initially he feels his life will be better without his brother. Zach’s father retreats into work. He tries to be there for Zach as much as he can. Zach’s mother is initially very shocked and then her shock turns to seeking revenge and justice for her son.
CHRISSI: Do you think this book should have been longer?
BETH: For me, I felt it was the perfect length. I don’t think there was anything else the author could have done or said – I think she got her point across and it ended on a rather hopeful note for the future which was pleasant to read amidst all the darkness and despair.
BETH: Reading the Magic Tree House books aloud “to Andy” helps Zach cope with his grief. Which books have helped you through difficult times in your life?
CHRISSI: One of the most powerful books I’ve read that have helped me is Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive. I was absolutely amazed and how Matt Haig just ‘got’ me. I believe I have suffered from anxiety since I was younger. Matt’s words were the only words that I’ve really connected with. I felt like he understood what was going on in my head which is a very powerful thing.
CHRISSI: Should Zach have returned to school earlier?
BETH: Absolutely not. He had obvious PTSD about the terrifying incident that he had to go through and was amazingly resilient considering how he suffered. I know if it was me, I’d have trouble going back into that situation, especially if I was still having nightmares so a child as young as Zach was certainly shouldn’t have been forced into going back before he was ready. Yes, it’s important to move on and realise that it was a rare occurrence that was unlikely to happen again but the extent of the trauma that people go through in these situations is not realised enough, in my opinion.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: I would definitely. I was really impressed with this book.
Would WE recommend it?
BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!
BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):
CHRISSI’S Star rating (out of 5):