sarah corbett morgan's Reviews > The Kingdom of Childhood

The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman
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's review
Oct 01, 2011

it was amazing
Read from October 01 to 09, 2011

Judy McFarland is at a tipping point. Her marriage with husband, Russ, is crumbling, one child is already out of the nest and another is due to leave soon, her school is on financial skids, and a close friend has died. This pressure cooker is about to shatter her defense mechanisms, allowing her enter into a self-destructive relationship with a young boy, Zach, a friend of her teenaged son and a student at the Waldorf school where she teaches.

Zach is not without fault in the relationship, and, as Judy observes, "My experience with teenagers had taught me they possessed an almost aggressive skill for ignoring the emotional states of adults. It was the same way they handled pet messes or dirty dishes: you can’t be held responsible for what you fail to observe." However, it soon becomes difficult for him to ignore this adult's emotional state and to acknowledge who is in control of the relationship.

The Kingdom of Childhood has been described by many as "disturbing," and in the hands of a less skilled writer it could come across as titilating version of a Mary Kay LeTourneau sex scandal. But Coleman digs deep into the motives and psyches of her characters. Using flashbacks she writes of Judy's childhood in Germany with her increasingly troubled mother and a military father to show us how Judy became the narcissistic person who could prey on a young boy. Just as Judy's troubled upbringing created her, Zach now teeters on the brink of having his sexual worldview skewed at a very young age; a wheel of dysfunction spining on into infinity.

Donald Maass says, "A truly big book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply felt themes, vivid setting…" Coleman reaches for the stars and grabs the reader pulling us into Judy and Zach's uncomfortable world. The writing is lyrical as well as brutal, and her grasp of the human condition is broad.

I'm giving it a five big stars.
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