Giles, Gail. 2007. Right Behind You.
I was frightened of this book if I'm being honest. I saw the cover with the lighter and the flames. I read the description, and I was doubtful. I thought that there was no way that I could like this book, like this character. But I was wrong. I was so wrong.
What I Know
On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire.
I was nine.
It was all about Bobby's birthday present.
A baseball glove. (5)
Our narrator Kip McFarland is one-of-a-kind. After the incidents in the first chapter, which are later explained in the next chapter, Kip is placed in a mental hospital. He's cared for by doctors, watched day and night, and placed on the proper medication, given therapy and time. He doesn't speak for four months. His first words after that long period of solitude and isolation and shock are "Wile E. Coyote."
The book covers vast amounts of time--from when he's nine to when he's an older teen--a high schooler. The book is set in Alaska, in Indiana, and in Texas. The writing is concise and powerful. Everything about this book just worked. Kip was a complicated soul. He hated who he was, what he had done, and didn't know how to make a new beginning, how to really break free of his past, of his shame and guilt. In some ways he knows that he's a different person; he's changed; he's not that little boy anymore. He's more than his past mistake. But he knows that this shame will follow him everywhere he goes. Kip is in some ways a tortured soul that is seeking comfort and redemption and grace and forgiveness.
I loved Kip as a narrator. I loved his step-mom, Carrie. I know that there is not an official award given each year or each decade even recognizing most incredible literary step-mom ever...but if there was Carrie would win hands down. I think she might be one of my favorite characters of the year. I love her and her tender, grace-filled relationship with this troubled father and son.
This is an unforgettable story of love and forgiveness, grace and shame, but most importantly a story of new beginnings, redemption, and hope.
I highly recommend it. That first and second chapter is as tough as it gets--in my opinion--so don't let fear keep you from picking up Giles' latest.
I'm not sure if other reviewers would make this connection or if the writer would agree with me. I could be way off on this one. But I am a huge Frankenstein fan. Huge. Like it's one of my favorite books ever. I think I may like Kip so much because he struggles in some ways with things that Frankenstein's monster deals with. He doesn't want to be defined as a "monster." He wants to be seen, to be accepted, to be recognized for the person that he is now. He doesn't want those brief minutes, that one split decision to shape and define him as a "monster" his whole life through. He wants people to see him and know him and love him. And not be afraid of him. To look at him and not see a monster but a human being. He wants acceptance, love, friendship. He wants what we all want. He wants unconditional love.