Released: September 2014
Jacket alert. The front cover photograph of a woman embracing her child by the shores of a blue sea is totally misleading and has nothing whatsoever to do with the story contained within the book as the book’s own blurb will tell you. “The photograph shows four smiling children. But look closer and you can see one of the boys has been crying.” This novel, from journalist Caroline Overington, concerns a fictional family of four children and what happens to them after one of the boys dies. His mother and her boyfriend have been sent to prison for the murder although they insisted that he was attacked by a man on the way back from the shops.
The story of what really happened and why it has been kept such a secret is offered through a set of narratives and case reports from professionals involved in the investigation, and the foster parents who took in the remaining three siblings, the main protagonist of the story, Lauren, and her remaining two siblings, Harley and Hayley.
As always, with split narratives it is trickier to get involved with a particular character and, with the exception of Harley and his foster mother Ruby, none of them, not even Lauren, are particularly appealing. Although the story holds a mirror up to society, for the way some professionals take home a wage for improving and maintaining order in a society that doesn’t work, it simply doesn’t do enough to make those characters really engaging. The structure of the book makes it easy to read, the content doesn’t. I found most of the professionals full of excuses and hypocritical for criticising an element of society they refused to engage with and did not understand fully.
There is a lot of historical data presented within the pages, mainly concerning the shocking way that children ‘in care’ were treated in the last century- that’s the twentieth century by the way, although reading this book you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the nineteenth. There are some frankly staggering truths given within the pages and whilst I can see that this is an important story with important messages contained within, given that it is based on true stories, and given the countless cases of historical abuse that are being uncovered lately, I felt that the characters should’ve been more engaging and more endearing. In short I wish that the whole thing had been treated a little more sensitively and a little less salaciously.