Full disclosure: I picked up The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman over the summer at the Romance Writers of America conference out in Anaheim for two reasons: the feel of the cover (slick, sturdy and high-quality, with raised lettering), and the old-fashioned cut of the pages inside. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a sucker for great packaging. It wasn’t until I got home and began sorting through the ridiculous amounts of books I scored that I even looked at the cover flap. And then I was like, “Whoa.”
This is the story of Judy McFarland, a middle-aged mother, wife and teacher, and the relationship she enters into with underage Zach Patterson, her son’s friend and a student at her school. The story is told in the present from the point of view of both Judy and Zach, interspersed with nuggets from Judy’s troubled past in Germany as a child.
What begins as a teacher/student mentoring situation quickly deteriorates into an affair that is at first exciting for Zach but upsetting to Judy, who is determined that their highly charged sexual encounter will not happen again. Her marriage, her job, her reputation at the prestigious and pretentious Waldorf school are all on the line. But Zach puts himself in her way and the doomed relationship continues. Over time, it morphs into a dangerous fixation for Judy, who is stuck in a loveless marriage and lives with the insidious demons from her past. It turns into a nightmare for Zach, who desperately wants out, but doesn’t know how to end it.
Judy’s downward spiral toward a complete mental break while her life unravels is disturbing. Her obsession with Zach and the frightening revelations from her past had me on the edge of my seat. And dear lord, the torment Zach goes through as the end draws near is particularly difficult to read.
The Kingdom of Childhood touches on a myriad of tough topics: mental illness, drug use, statutory rape, murder and a host of dysfunctional family and religious issues. Ms. Coleman does a masterful job of weaving the details of Judy’s formative years, (her mentally ill mother, her cheating father, and her friend Rudi, whom Zach reminds her of) with the present day disintegration of Judy’s family life. I found Judy’s relationship with her daughter, although only briefly touched on, particularly heartbreaking. And Zach’s POV is just as riveting as Judy’s. He battles his own childhood demons all the while dealing with Judy’s smothering attention.
This is a tense, well-written story, and if you can get past the uncomfortable topic (and I hope you can!) this is a great read.
Rebecca Coleman’s second novel, Heaven Should Fall, was released on September 25, 2012.
Do you have any dark or disturbing reads that stayed with you long after you put the book down?
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