Release Date: September 10, 2011
Buying Links: Amazon The Book Depository
Book Blurb (from goodreads):
The Kingdom of Childhood is the story of a boy and a woman; sixteen-year-old Zach Patterson, uprooted and struggling to reconcile his knowledge of his mother's sextramarital affair, and Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher watching her family unravel before her eyes. Thrown together to organize a fundraiser for their failing private school and bonded by loneliness, they begin an affair that at first thrills, then corrupts each of them. Judy sees in Zachthe elements of a young man she loved as a child, but what Zach does not realize is that their relationship is, for Judy, only the latest in a lifetime of disturbing secrets.
Rebecca Coleman's manuscript for The Kingdom of Childhood was a semifinalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. An emotionally tense, increasingly chilling work of fiction set in the controversial Waldorf school community, it is equal parts enchanting and unsettling and is sure to be a much discussed and much-debated novel.
Teaser: Dreams had this effect on me: I knew where they ended and reality began, but they tended to bring ideas into an area where the circles overlapped, making the absurd seem more feasible.
When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued by the Waldorf school setting and appalled at the topic. Appalled because it's not an easy topic to think about or discuss, and because as a teacher, I take it personally when one abuses their power and their children's trust in such a manner, not because I thought it was inappropriate. An adult female who has sex with a teenage boy is sometimes looked on as something to brag about, as somehow ok, even adult males who have sex with teenage girls is sometimes considered ok. But people overlook the fact that there's an inherent imbalance of power in such a relationship and if the adult is an authority figure, like Judy in the book, then the situation is worse. There are reasons for the legal concept of statuatory rape. I was intrigued by the setting because I teach pre-school. I had heard a little bit about our local Waldorf school but really knew nothing. Reading the book was a good opportunity to learn more. The school I teach at draws from Reggio Emilia, constructivism, emergent curriculum and Piaget for it's educational philosophy and curriculum.
So I approached this book with both curiousity for it's setting and trepidation for it's uncomfortable topic. It's a topic that is potentially explosive, and certainly controversial, and I hoped that Coleman would handle it with care and sensitivity. Happily, she tackles it realistically and in an unflinching manner; there's no sentimentalizing, and the book is a compulsive read. The characters are well-drawn, with both Judy and Zach coming across as real and authentic. The characters aren't black and white, but realistic shades of gray. Each one is flawed in some way, each one has both dreams and baggage that simultaneously lead them forward and cripples them. Coleman explores complex ethical issues with a clear and unflinching eye. The reader is forced to look beyond their assumptions and biases and examine what is happening and how it happened. It's dark, intense, and makes you think.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints, shifting between Judy and Zach. There are also flashbacks to the year that Judy lived in Germany as a child, a year that had a dramatic and lasting impact on both her and her family. We also get flashbacks into Zach's life in New Hampshire, where they just recently moved from. Coleman takes the past and present and shows us how the events of the past lead to current events in our lives. We are shaped by our past, even when we don't realize it. There are quite a few layers to this story, and Coleman deftly manages them all.
Reading the book was similar to slowing down to watch a car crash - you have some idea of what you'll see, you know it's likely to be horrible or gruesome but you can't turn away, it's a compulsion that you can't resist. With all of the events that happen, especially towards the end of the book, the story could easily have veered into soap opera or talk show territory but Coleman avoids those traps and we get a hard hitting, painful, but exquisite look at the disintegration of a family, of a grown woman, of innocence and trust, and what it means to be a child.
One of Coleman's strengths in this story is her language and her way with words. Alternately dark, lyrical, intense, and stark, she paints vivid pictures in your mind:
Since my husband had exchanged his libido for entrance into his Ph.D. program three years before.....
I needed this weekend with Russ, if only to refocus my mind from the ever-growing list of men my subconscious was plundering.
But he felt compelled to support her anyway, based on a bit of wisdom taught to him by his dad: never side against a strong woman, because it never ends well.
Cats are the servants of the moon goddess. Only evil people can't tolerate them. It's like garlic and vampires. (I have a cat, and I enjoy vampire books, so this one made me smile.)
Something inside my chest felt pinched, bunched up and tied with a tight string. I think it was the place in my heart where the joy of youth had once been: a phantom pain.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
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Courtesy of Meryl L Moss Media Relations, I have one print copy to give away to a US resident. The book will be mailed directly from them to the winner.