Zach Taylor is only 6, and he's already survived more pain and fear than many adults I know. He was at school one afternoon when a man with a gun came in and started shooting at the students. His first grade classroom was down the hall from the auditorium where the shooting started, so his teacher was able to lock their door and herd her students into the closet where they could be safe. Zach was tasked with holding the closet door closed while Mrs. Russell called the police on her cell phone. He was scared and his arms hurt and he kept hearing loud POPs out in the hallway, but he kept holding on.
It wasn't until later, after the police rescued them, after the school children and teachers were all moved to the church across the street to wait for their parents, that he started looking around for his older brother. Andy, a fifth grader, wasn't with his class.
Zach's mom and dad showed up, and they couldn't find Andy either. They found out which hospital the injured students were taken to, and Zach and his mom go there to try to get more information. Zach's dad stays at the church, just in case Andy shows up there.
Zach survived, but Andy did not. And in the days and weeks that follow, every one in the family has to figure out how to deal with all the pain and fear, guilt and anger that they feel. Their struggle is palpable and their eventual breakthrough is heartwarming and unexpected. Keep the tissues nearby for this one!
Only Child is Rhiannon Navin's debut novel, and based on the quality of her writing, it will be far from her last. Equally heartbreaking and uplifting, Only Child is told from Zach's perspective as he works through the feelings he has in the wake of the shooting and watches as his family comes apart at the seams. His safe place is the floor of Andy's bedroom closet, where he talks to his brother and reads to him, trying to keep the feeling of connection alive.
I highly recommend this book, but it will be one of the hardest books you'll read this year. Give yourself the space you need to get through it, and you won't be disappointed. You may even find the secrets to happiness.
Galleys for Only Child were provided by Knopf through their First To Read program, with many thanks.