Monday, July 23, 2012
A Tragedy Like No Other
You don't have to actually be a parent to know the most terrifying thing is the loss of your child. Whether it be illness or violence or kidnapping, the idea of a losing a child is terrifying to anyone and everyone. In Lisa McMann's Dead to You, the reader experiences the confusing and emotional return of a child who was kidnaped years earlier.
Nine years ago Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just 7 years old. Now he is a 16 year old about to be reunited with his family he has pretty much forgotten. He is terrified about meeting his family again, especially since the woman who took care of him all those years, Ellie, (and abandoned him, causing him to live in an orphanage and become homeless eventually), was someone he truly loved. As he returns, everyone wants to hear about the horrible woman who abducted him and the awful things she did to him, but he really doesn't have any stories like that. He loved Ellie.
But the transition back into the family isn't the worst for Ethan. He has a crush on his childhood best friend and she is very protective of him. He is overwhelmed at first by all the attention, but eventually, he settles into his new life. But Ethan's return is hardest on his younger brother Blake who was just four and in the front yard when Ethan was abducted. Blake is convinced Ethan is not really Ethan, that another boy has come to their home pretending to be Ethan. Ethan's father contemplates a DNA test, but Ethan's mother will not doubt her son. She knows if she asks him to take a DNA test, she will always be the mother who doubted her son. But why can't he remember anything from his life before the abduction? Is he really Ethan? Can the family survive losing another son?
OK. I am gonna put this out there with as few spoiler-ish hints as possible. The ending is one of those, "What the H-E-double hockey sticks just HAPPENED" kind of moments. The last ten pages are the kind of ending that readers want to believe they hate, but really it accomplishes what the author was going for- you are still thinking about it and talking about it for WEEKS after you finished the book! I know a lot of people want a sequel to find out how things were resolved, but I hope McMann leaves this story alone. The ending is unresolved, but that is what makes it so powerful. Uncertainty fills the book, so why not end it with uncertainty too? I know I usually hate unresolved endings, but with this book, I actually love it. I think it makes the book that much better.
The story itself is pretty complex and disturbing. Imagine getting your son back after nine years and then people start to question whether he is the real deal or not. That has to be devastating. The mother is such a wonderful character. She never doubts Ethan. She fights for her son tooth and nail, and I loved her for that. But Blake's character was the most interesting for me. It had to be so hard for him, always the one who was there when Ethan was abducted. Not that they blame him, but that guilt that still surrounds him all his life about BEING there when his brother was taken. Then his suspicions about Ethan and how vehemently he tries to prove this isn't the real Ethan, but how much everyone ignores him, assuming jealousy is the cause. It felt so realistic and terrifying, but sad and heartbreaking. This book is written in simple language (with minor profanity), but the story is quite deep and provocative. It would be perfect for an older, low-skilled student who wants a mature book but needs a lower reading level. It would be perfect for papers, discussions, and "What if" assignments where you could really question the fabric of family, suspicion, and the unresolved ending. I will definitely be keeping this on my shelves for a variety of students. But a warning... if you can't handle unresolved endings, this book is going to tick you off!