THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
William Morrow, February 2006
Reviewer Sissy Jacobson
Sarah Laden, a master caterer, has been a widow for two years. Had it not been for her two boys, Nate now sixteen and Danny eleven, she would have stayed in bed with the covers pulled over her head. But she couldn’t do that, and that was blessing number one. Every step forward, she still counts as a blessing. Her second blessing is her friend Courtney Kendrick who lives in the same upper-class gated community. The daily phone calls, coffee meetings, lunches, hairdresser appointments arranged by Courtney eventually get Sarah on her feet and out of the house. Sarah caters the frequent parties the Kendricks have. She always fixes the food, sets the table, and leaves before the guests arrived. She never sees the guests and she, along with the neighbors, all assume they are Mark’s business associates.
Driving home this cold rainy day, Sarah spots Jordan, Courtney’s son who used to be Danny’s best friend, walking down the drive. Danny has never told her why he and Jordan are no longer friends. It’s odd that he’s walking in the rain, late for school. His backpack is clutched to his chest like a shield, and he looks thinner and paler than ever. Sarah stops to give him a ride but he declines. Sarah insists he get in the van. After a few minutes he demands she stop because he’s going to be sick. The only place near is a porta-potty next to an abandoned gas station. When Sarah checks on him, he falls out of the door with a bent needle and syringe in his arm. She rushes him to the nearest emergency room, saving his life.
As word gets around, life in Oaklawn, a close-knit community, is never quite the same, safe place it has always been. Courtney is charged with child endangerment and complicity with abuse. Mark, her husband, has taken off for parts unknown. The community learns that Mark and Courtney are not the wonderful, involved couple they appear to be. They attend all community events, have their son invite boys and girls over for swimming parties. Courtney, an amateur photographer, always has her camera with her, taking pictures of all the kids.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS just may be the most important realistic fiction you can read this year. You may think you know the signs of sexual abuse in children, but by reading this book, it may open your eyes to things you have missed. The plot runs smoothly, each section told by the different characters as they see the events, and wrestle with their own problems. I can’t begin to imagine the amount of time it took for Kittle to do all the research necessary to reach the depth of events and emotions involved in writing this book. Read THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and maybe someday you too will save a life by recognizing the signs of a child begging for help but unable to articulate his needs.
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