Published May 2014 by Harper
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
**My apologies to TLC Book Tours and Harper - this review was meant to post June 10**
In this tense and brilliant tale from the national bestselling author of The Death of Bees, a young boy on a small Scottish island, where everyone knows everything about everyone else, discovers that a secret can be a dangerous thing.
Eleven-year-old Michael Murray is the best at two things: hacky sack and keeping secrets. His family thinks he’s too young to hear grown-up stuff, but he listens at doors—it’s the only way to find out anything. And Michael’s heard a secret, one that may explain the bruises on his mother’s face.
When the whispers at home and on the street become too loud to ignore, Michael begins to wonder if there is an even bigger secret he doesn’t know about. Scared of what might happen if anyone finds out, and desperate for life to return to normal, Michael sets out to piece together the truth. But he also has to prepare for the upcoming talent show, keep an eye out for Dirty Alice—his archnemesis from down the street—and avoid eating Granny’s watery stew.
Well, let's just put it right out there - I loved this book. In telling the story from Michael's point of view, O'Donnell is able to blend light and dark, the humorous and the horrible. I'm not sure that I've ever read a novel which so perfectly captures the voice of a young child. Michael worries about his mother, his parents' relationship, his friends, and the ugly sweaters he has to wear in almost equal measure as children will do. And while there is a naiveté to Michael, he is often wiser than his years and knows much more than adults give him credit for.
"Kids are mostly not allowed to know anything about grown-up stuff. Marianne's ma and da are probably fighting about it every night but Marianne will be asleep or pretending it's just a normal fight...She will never cry, not in front of us, and she will never tell, even though we all know anyway because most of us listen at doors."
"It's a terrible thing to keep crossing yourself, I think. It's like forgiving yourself every minute of the day for things you can't really forgive yourself for, as if you're saying that you're still a good person even though you know you're telling lies and keeping secrets you shouldn't."The truth about what happened to Michael's ma threatens to derail the family, particularly when it becomes public knowledge. I appreciated O'Donnell's handling of a very serious subject in a way I haven't seen it handled before. But while that event is at the heart of the story, the story is as much about family and love and community. It is a community and family that O'Donnell makes readers care deeply about.
Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour. They've surely posted their review on time!
Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. She lives in Scotland and does a wonderful job of making readers feel they are there.