Based on a true story. Jane, John and their three boys, Chris, Luke and Josh are just an ordinary loving family. When Chris, due to his medical problems, behaves in more erratic way than usual, Jane calls for help. Little did Jane realise that a simple call, made out of concern for her troubled son, would plunge the family into a social care and family court system where the truth holds little sway and prejudice, misrepresentation and outright lies are used in an attempt to destroy the family unit. Jane and John are sucked into a legal and emotional nightmare, witnessing first-hand the secretive side of a care system that local authorities and the courts never want the general public to see.
As a parent of an autistic child, this was a difficult story to read. I’m not overly fond of true story sorts of novels in the first place, as I prefer escapism for my reading. This particular tale left me feeling tense about my own situation every time I picked it up, making it hard to force myself to stick with it and come back after putting it down.
This book truly does speak to the notion that truth is stranger than fiction. Although it’s made quite clear the story is based on fact, it’s not really believable. It’s not my intention to call the facts behind the story into question, but rather to say that if it was labeled pure fiction, it would strain my suspension of disbelief. The entire swathe of figures in authority positions – with two very minor and notable exceptions near the end – are painted with a broad, villainous brush, and come off as nothing more than two dimensional, shallow harpies and assholes. I found it hard to believe no one at all in the system had any empathy whatsoever. In fairness, part of my objection to the portrayal may come from being an American with no understanding of the British social services and court systems.
Setting aside the subject matter, I overall found this book to be dry. Many, many sections of this book are told, not shown, and repetitive. Over and over, we’re told that the family members are upset and frustrated and angry and so on, rather than just being shown what they do and how they cope. Despite the heart-wrenching subject matter, I found myself getting bored at the overviews of the court proceedings and meetings and all sorts of things. Several scenes could have been gripping, but are glossed over with little more than what amounts to ‘Villain X said horrible things and the other characters were upset by that’.
That said, there are fantastic sections of suspense and friction and pain, and the dialogue is good. I wish the entire book was made up of these bits. Additionally, the family members are highly believable characters, and well depicted.
The sequence of events is predictable, but only because it’s made clear that this is a horror story, so the direction it goes is the only direction it can go. Which is to say that nearly every time something bad can happen, it does. I don’t really see this as a negative, but others might.
Despite its flaws, I probably would have given this 3.5/4 stars, as it did still manage to interest me in the struggles of the family. Except for the ending. The book simply stops with no resolution, no clear indication of what the future holds, nothing. I actually swiped the last page several times and checked the file, thinking something had gone wrong with it.
Because of the end, I don’t feel comfortable specifically recommending this for anyone.
I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.