May 03, 2008

Review: Child of My Heart

Child of My Heart
by Alice McDermott

Picture this: the sun laying it's warm blanket over your arms and legs as you stand at the edge of the water, burying your feet in the cool, wet sand, looking for seashells in the distance and sailboats on the horizon. You have nothing of importance to do and no where in particular to go. Your days belong to you and whomever you choose to spend them with. There are no burdens like boulders balanced on your back, no cares to crowd your mind. This is exactly the feeling McDermott's writing conveys, a warm, carefree summer at the beach. I wanted to lose myself in that feeling over and over again. But, as in real life, the slow pace and pleasant peacefulness cannot last.

Theresa is 15 the summer she invites her 8 year old cousin to stay with her. "Poor Daisy" as she is frequently called, is the middle most child in a family of 10. Often overlooked because she is well behaved and self reliant, she looks up to Theresa, the only person who really pays attention to her. This summer, Theresa will do everything she can to make this a magical time for Daisy.

Daisy is not the only child Theresa is taking care of. There are the pets she walks and plays with for her rich but absent neighbors, the neglected and rowdy kids next door, and Flora, the toddler she is playing Mother's Helper for for an aging artist and his young wife that has just left town. Theresa enchants them all with her imagination, care and wisdom. But she can only be a temporary distraction from the pain and loneliness of their lives. She is about to come face to face with the real world and all it's heartbreaks.

It was such a joy to read this book, even as I knew what was going to eventually happen to Poor Daisy, even as I hoped that Theresa would not make a certain mistake. What I really felt while I was reading was a peaceful bliss. Theresa spends her summer caring for her charges in just the way I dreamed of caring for my own family when I was younger, before I knew just how hard this job called Motherhood could be. Carefree and able to explore the world around us, with patience and affection. Telling stories and creating a wonderland. The lollipop tree scene was my favorite. I love how Theresa gives Daisy the gift of one fantastic summer, knowing it will be so important someday.

What I didn't like were the adults, whether absent or present. All grown ups were shown as neglectful, selfish, ready to use the helpless children in there lives to further their own desires but completely ignoring the children if they got in the way. It made me sad because I know that there are whole sections of this country that live this way. The children are left to fend for themselves. They cannot rely on their parents or guardians to protect them or even just take care of their most basic needs. The adults are far too busy with their own lives to bother with anyone else's.

While there is the looming question of "what's wrong with Daisy?" it is not the focus of the book. Her problem is never even identified, though it is fairly easy to figure out. The whole point of the book is childhood, or the loss of it. Where is the point where childhood ends and what is the cause of its death? Can it be protected or held on to? Sorry but no. All we can do is hold on to those memories that made childhood enchanting.

I've all ready requested McDermott's award winning novel Charming Billy from PaperBack Swap. I'm curious to see if her writing style changes based on the story or if this is just her way. Either way, Child of My Heart is comfort reading at its best.


Susie said...

This sounds like a wonderful read. I think I'll go check PBS to see if it's available right now! Thanks for the great review.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any McDermott but this makes me wonder why. Thanks for the review, I must order this from the library.

Petunia said...

Susie-I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Table-Isn't it great to learn about new authors? I'm glad I trusted my own instincts about this one.

Trish said...

I read Charming Billy several years ago and remember feeling so so about it even though I only remember bits and pieces. I've heard such good things about Alice McDermott that I'm thinking maybe I need to revisit her works.

Petunia said...

Trish-good to know. I received my copy from PBS all ready but I've a few other books to get through before I can pick it up.

SmallWorld Reads said...

Thanks for the book review--I got this from PBS and finished it in a day. Great book!