‘Only Child’ – Rhiannon Navin

After finishing this I was reminded of the cliché ‘out of the mouths of babes’…

Part of me wishes stories about school shootings were not such high-profile at the moment but, with recent events in America, it seems to be a problem that is not going away. This will not be a book for everyone. The topic is hard to read about, and there’s an element of earnestness to the message that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Our story begins with first grader Zach hiding with his teacher and classmates in the closet. He recounts the reactions of those around him as he listens to the repetitive pop-pop-pop sound that signals a gunman has entered the building.

From the outset we are placed in the middle of what must be a terrifying experience. For anyone. Zach’s youth and innocence mean we are seeing this through very different eyes and it’s hard to take. I sighed with relief as Zach and his classmates are escorted out of the building. This didn’t last long.

As Zach is collected by his mum we learn that his older brother, Andy, is missing. From this point onwards the pain level is hiked up.

Sadly, Andy is one of the victims. Through Zach’s eyes we watch how this event shatters and tears apart the family.

Zach has, at times, a voice just that little too adult and knowing. I can’t picture many six/seven year olds articulating some of their thoughts in the way he does. However, his observations of the family and those around them as they exist in the months afterwards are telling.

The child-narrator means we miss some of the details we’d like to know. Much of what Zach experiences is either directly related to him or gleaned from half-heard conversations. But what we get is enough.

By the end of the novel – perhaps because it would be simply too depressing otherwise – we are given signs that things may settle down with the family. There is hope.

Unfortunately, the question of the shooter, how he has access to the guns and how steps could be taken to prevent such events happening are never explored. They can’t feasibly be in this (probably not questions a seven year old would dwell on/even raise unless repeating things said around them), but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to my publication. I’m sure readers’ “prayers and thoughts” will be with all the characters in this fictional story – as they are every time another school shooting takes place – but, ultimately, that changes nothing.