Kip has lived with the horror of being a murderer ever since. It has been several years since Bobby’s death. Several years of intensive therapy at the juvenile mental health facility where Kip has lived ever since that awful day. Several years during which Kip has internalized his shame and guilt and unworthiness as a human being. On the eve of his release Kip and his family assume new identities and move to Indiana to start again. But how can you start a new life when your old one is still haunting you?
This is a story of morality, penance, and redemption. The central issue the book deals with is whether or not it is possible for a person to make amends for an act of cruelty or whether that one act, even when committed as a small child, shapes your worth as a human being for the rest of your life. Does intent matter when the end result is the same (as in manslaughter vs. murder)? What has to happen in order to balance the scales – and is it even possible? Is it up to the individual or is it up to the community?
Giles deals with these questions masterfully. I couldn’t put this book down. That’s not to say it’s a perfect book, but it is riveting nonetheless. Kip is an incredibly likable character. He is consumed by guilt and tends to sabotage his life when it seems like it is going too well. He feels that he deserves to be continually punished. He’s surrounded by a loving family that wants him to live a new life and helped along by some extremely competent mental health professionals, but he still feels as though this one action shadows his every subsequent moment.
(*POSSIBLE SPOILERS*) What I found so interesting is that Kip always, always, always refers to himself as a murderer. It takes Kip many years to understand that although he did something that was horrible and has to live with the results of his actions, it doesn’t necessarily mark him as ruined person. He is the only one who can decide if the course of his life will be about this one action or whether he’ll be able to move past it. This was one of the strongest parts of the novel – even though others (like Kip’s parents and psychiatrists) understand that it was more an impetuous violent act with disastrous consequences, Kip can’t actually move on until he, himself, can accept that fact. And not just accept responsibility (because he’s always accepted responsibility), but more accurately accept that he is more than that one action – he is everything that happened before and after. Kip sums it up perfectly, “I’ve been waiting to forget that I murdered Bobby Clarke. Or forgive myself…I figured out that I can’t forget. I can’t really forgive. But I can live. LIVE with it.” Which is what this reader had been desperately hoping for the entire book. (*END OF SPOILERS*)
Michelle and I are soon to be discussing this title at our book club at the local juvenile detention center and I can’t wait to hear their thoughts on Kip and his life. I wonder if they’ll think he was responsible for his actions at 9 years old. If they’ll think the community was right to vilify him to such a degree. And I’m especially curious about what they’ll think about his friends’ reactions when they find out about past. It should be a very interesting conversation because this book is nothing if not completely discussable.