We went to school that Tuesday like normal.
Not all of us came home . . .
Huddled in a cloakroom with his classmates and teacher, six-year-old Zach can hear shots ringing through the corridors of his school. A gunman has entered the building and, in a matter of minutes, will have taken nineteen lives.
In the aftermath of the shooting, the close knit community and its families are devastated. Everyone deals with the tragedy differently. Zach’s father absents himself; his mother pursues a quest for justice — while Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and drawing.
Ultimately though, it is Zach who will show the adults in his life the way forward — as, sometimes, only a child can.
Published 8th March 2018 by Mantle Books
I knew this was going to be hard hitting well before I sat down to read it. It’s a book about the aftermath of a shooting in a school after all, but I’d also read some fantastic reviews from fellow bloggers. However, despite being forewarned, I still wasn’t prepared for the sheer horror and sadness I felt while reading it.
Only Child starts with six year old Zach huddled in a cupboard, along with his school teacher and classmates, listening to the “pop, pop,pop” of gun shots from the corridor. Immediately, the author puts the reader into the mind of a frightened six year old child with startling authenticity. While Zach knows something bad is happening outside, it’s small things like his teachers “coffee breath” which he notices. This struck me, I’m not sure why, but it was just so convincingly childlike and naive. Right there and then Zach stole my heart.
The majority of the book focuses on the aftermath of the shooting, as Zach’s family deal with first the relief that he survived, then the trauma that his older brother didn’t. I don’t think I’ve read such crushing and all consuming grief the way Rhiannon Navin writes it, when Zach’s mother is given the news. It was horrifically heart breaking, almost painful to read, but so exquisitely written, I can still picture the scene and feel how it made me feel days after I read it.
I felt an array of emotions as Zach lead us through the following months, as through his eye’s we see the impact of such a trauma on a family and a community. I felt angry at his parents at some points, particularly his mother, as they are so consumed by their own grief they seem to forget that Zach is also experiencing grief of loosing his brother, but he’s also dealing with actually being at the shocking event himself. He doesn’t fully understand what happened, and has feelings he doesn’t know how to deal with. I wanted someone to stop and just hug this little boy. Of course, it’s easy to criticise from the outside. I can’t begin to imagine how I’d react if I were to experience something like this and I think the author portrayed an honest, raw and human side of a family struggling with grief and trauma.
When atrocities like this happen it is always shocking and horrific. However, once the news stops, we rarely see the far reaching effects such experiences have on individuals. In Only Child, Rhiannon Navin, takes us beyond the initial aftermath in heartbreaking honesty as Zach watches the effects on his family, his community and the parents of the gunman themselves. Only Child is powerful, brutal and heartbreakingly sad yet there are moments that feel positive and uplifting – where amongst the sadness there’s flashes of purity and forgiveness. It’s impossible to say I enjoyed this book, but it is one I appreciated reading, found incredibly powerful and important and will remember for a long time to come.
(I read an advance ebook courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley