Rhainnon Navin’s harrowing novel is not only timely, but a sometimes-difficult glimpse into the world of a child who lives through and survives the horror of a school massacre. As the school goes into lockdown, the sounds of a gun popping through the hallways terrifies the children and their saviour teacher, Miss Russell.
In the immediate aftermath, six-year-old Zach witnesses the arrival of police, the panicked parents, the lack of news and then, slowly, the growing list of the dead and the news that the shooter was a fellow student.
The long-term devastation rips families and friendships apart and we experience it all through the confusion of Zach’s eyes, who tells the story with the voice of narrator Kivlighan De Montebello. His storytelling skills defy his young years.
Navin’s novel is insightful, tender and terrifying. Her ability to capture the world around her from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t always understand is both heartbreaking and gripping. The opening scenes of the shooting, told from Zach’s hiding place in a cupboard, is just as terrifying as it would have been facing the gunman. Like a proverbial train wreck, it’s difficult to stop ploughing through Navin’s story, witnessing the damage unfolding and the adults around Zach struggling to cope in ways that make no sense to him. Zach too, fails to understand his own reactions: his anger, his sadness, his extreme reactions…
De Montebello is equally exceptional. This young actor, whose film debut was only 4 years ago, provides a poignant reading that encapsulates every emotion. He breathes life into Navin’s text, creating vivid images of each scene. We understand and believe in him and the people around him.
The subject matter of Navin’s debut novel may be too close to home for some, but it outstrips many thrillers even without action scenes. The book is released by Pan Macmillan with the 9-hour audiobook version released in March 2018 and available through Audible Australia.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10