Jodi Picoult does her usual good job with the sensitive and timely issue of child sexual abuse by clergy. And (as usual) I can find very little to critique.
When five year old Nathaniel stops talking, his parents cannot imagine why until, in the psychiatrists office, he acts out a scenario of sexual abuse. His mother, Nina, is a prosecuting attorney who specializes in family, child custody and abuse cases. She knows how hard it will be to identify the offender and bring him to justice. Nina is a protagonist that is not entirely likable and the author acknowledges this in the interview in the back of the book. Nina is fiercely protective of her child, often without being clear on what he really needs (someone to LISTEN).
This story was published in 2002, probably at the height of the allegations against several Catholic priests. Picoult does a good job of showing Nina’s confusion about her faith, in light of what the church has always taught and what has happened to her child. The author works with two first person narrators – Nina and Nathaniel. Other points of view from minor characters are brought out in third person. Though she moves from one POV to another with the aid of spacing and asterisks and a different font for Nathaniel’s voice, sometimes it is a bit confusing as to whose head we are in. But overall this is a good way to let the reader know where everyone is coming from.
When Nathaniel gives the name of his offender, Nina shoots the priest at his arraignment. (This is not a spoiler. It is told in the prologue.) There follows good information of how the court system works, on DNA and the exploration of feelings toward a friend/wife/mother who would do this. The surprise twist at the end is very “Picoult” and good fodder for a book discussion group.