***Child of my Heart
by Alice McDermott
Reviewed January 1, 2003.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002. 242 pages.
I decided to read this book since it was highly recommended by Book
Magazine. I have to agree that it is wonderfully well written.
The narrator, Theresa, is fifteen years old the summer her eight-year-old
cousin Daisy comes to visit. Theresa is the most popular babysitter
and dog-walker on the eastern end of Long Island. People say she has
some sort of magic with children and animals, but it’s easy to see in the
book why they love her. She treats the children as people, kindred
spirits. She pays attention to their opinions and enjoys being with
them, and they respond to her with devotion. This beautiful portrayal
of Theresa and her cousin Daisy is the great strength of this book and why
I enjoyed it despite some misgivings about some things it portrayed.
Daisy is also well-drawn. She’s small and frail and sickly.
From a family of eight children, she’s often overlooked. Theresa
takes her on and thoroughly enjoys her summer with Daisy, taking Daisy
with her as she babysits Flora, the toddler daughter of an eccentric artist.
Why do books about a babysitter seemingly require frightfully neglected
children and inevitable sexual advances from one of the children’s fathers?
Although it was delightful to read about Theresa’s interaction with the
kids in her neighborhood, my heart went out to those kids. If only
they had an adult in their lives as loving and responsible as Theresa.
(Alas! One of the awful adults was named Sondra. It’s not often
I see my name used in a book. I definitely didn’t like the character
the name was used for. Oh well!) As for the sexual advances,
it struck me as sadly pathetic that these were presented not as a horror,
but as a sort of triumph, a coming-of-age. I found myself also feeling
sorry for Theresa.
The main thread of the story, though, is about Daisy, and their time
together. That’s the part that touched my heart.
This isn’t one I’ll urge my friends to read, but I did enjoy it, for
the most part, in a quiet, meditative way. This is a literary novel,
character-driven rather than plot-driven. A masterful artist has written
a poignant novel about a fifteen-year-old girl’s summer on the brink of
adulthood, spent with the child of her heart.
Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.
All rights reserved.
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