The Child Who by Simon Lelic

The_Child_Who ★★★★½
The Child Who
A Novel by Simon Lelic
2012 / 303 Pages

The Setup: An unimaginable crime and the man who must defend it-a probing psychological thriller from the author of A Thousand Cuts.

A chance phone call throws the biggest muder case in southern England into the hands of provincial attorney Leo Curtice. Twelve-year- old Daniel Blake stands accused of murdering an eleven-year-old girl. But who is truly responsible when one child kills another? As Curtice sets out to defend the indefensible, he soon finds himself pitted against an enraged community calling for blood. When the buildup of pressure takes a sinister turn, he fears for his wife and young daughter’s safety. Must he choose between his family and the life of a damaged child? With piercing psychological insight, Lelic examines a community’s response to a hideous crime. (From the hardcover edition)

Simon Lelic is not an author who takes the easy road. In each of his three novels he’s chosen to address an emotionally charged topic and has attempted to turn what the reader thinks they know and feel about the subject matter on its head, forcing them to reexamine their stance and question their beliefs. This trend started with a fictional school shooting in his impressive debut Rupture and then continued with the exploration of the fallout from new fictional anti-terrorist legislation introduced by the government in The Facility. His latest novel The Child Who is no exception, focusing on the brutal murder of a young girl at the hands of one of her male classmates.

As a writer Lelic possesses a knack for taking his chosen topic and breaking it down to its core first by exposing the fragile and flawed human element of the story, and then proceeding to climb upward, building an intricately structured tale that highlights the ultimate truth of any given situation, namely that things are never simply black and white. Every single situation has its gray areas and it is here, in the exploration of these all too often overlooked elements, that Lelic thrives at making a living.

At the start of the book twelve year old Daniel Blake stands accused of murdering eleven year old Felicity Forbes and thanks to being in the right place at the right time solicitor Leo Curtice gets handed the task of defending the boy. This is the type of high profile case that can launch a career, and initially Leo can’t help but show his excitement. Needless to say, this burst of enthusiasm quickly wears off when he realizes that he’s ended up with far more than he ever bargained for.

He’s reviled by the media and public at large. His daughter is ostracized at school. His wife begins feeling threatened at home. In short, his family life slowly begins to deteriorate right before his eyes. Yet even though he is repulsed by the heinous act he ultimately believes the boy committed, Leo steadfastly refuses to abandon him. Instead, under extreme pressure from all sides to quit the case, he continues on, determined to find some explanation for the crime that could possibly make the boy more sympathetic to a jury by delving into his family life. The nuggets he unearths with the help of a psychologist are shocking.

Told entirely through the point of view of Leo, The Child Who isn’t a novel that attempts to explain what makes one child commit an atrocious act of violence against another child. This question could never be definitively answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Neither is it’s not a novel that relishes in describing the pain and anguish felt by the families of both the perpetrator and the victim of the crime. It would be far too easy to exploit their grief in order to tell a tantalizing tale. No, here has always Lelic is taking a deeper dive. He’s asking some very difficult questions in the hopes of opening up the floodgates for a larger discussion about the way society treats its juvenile offenders.

Should a twelve year old be tried as an adult for a crime they committed as a child? Should they be sentenced to death? Should children who commit crimes be sent to prison to cohabitate with adult offenders instead of being placed in the more relaxed, comfortable setting of a juvenile detention center? Are child offenders able to fully grasp the consequences of their actions? Can they be rehabilitated?

Lelic doesn’t pretend to have any answers, but what better way to explore this subject matter and ask these pointed questions than through the voice of a lawyer, a man who is tasked with obeying the laws set forth by the government regardless of whatever personal feelings he may hold on the matter?

Trust me. Pick this one up. You won’t be able to put it down.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.