Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Summer of Owen Todd

29981070Abbott, Tony. The Summer of Owen Todd
October 17th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
E ARC from Netgalley

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse, suicidal thoughts

Owen and his best friend Sean have just finished fifth grade, and want to have an epic summer. They manage to hang out at Owen's family's go kart track on Cape Cod, and spend a great day at a marine supply store across the street from the dress shop where Sean's mother works, but after that, Sean needs to have a "babysitter". Sean's mother is uncomfortable leaving him for the long hours that she works, especially since he has an insulin pump for his diabetes. She hires a young man from their church, Paul, who is jovial and can work the hours she needs. From the beginning, Owen suspects that something is creepy about Paul. Sean mentions that Paul has gone to the bathroom with the door open and his pants down, and has also shown his, briefly, a picture of an unclothes boy sleeping on a couch. Owen immediately says that parents should be told, but Sean doesn't want to mess up his mother's summer plans. Things get worse very quickly, with more activities (described) as well as videotaping. Sean tells Owen that now he can't tell anyone or Paul's friend will post the pictures on the internet, and Sean will kill himself. Owen still wants to tell, but is unsure what the right thing to do is, so he tries to keep his friend from Paul and also tries to catch him in the act and alert adults. Sean tries twice to drown himself. Finally, when he witnesses Sean being raped and catches the scene on his own phone, he tells his parents, who immediately phone the police. Sean gets the help he needs, and the police eventually locate and arrest Paul, holding him without bail.
Strengths: This is an important book on a topic that has not been much covered since the problem novel surge of the 1980s. This is similar to Deuker's Swagger, but in that book, we aren't entirely sure what is going on. Owen knows what should be done, and that what is happening isn't right. The parents, when it is brought to their attention, don't belittle the boys. There are resources in the back, and Abbott hopes that this book will help this conversation to happen.
Weaknesses: The age range that Amazon gives for this is 10-14, but the graphic nature of this book might be too upsetting for younger children.
What I really think: While this is an important book, I am reluctant to have it in my school library. Not because I don't think children should read it, but because I do not think they should read it alone. I would not want my daughter, in 6th grade, to have checked this out because it looked like a book about summer, and then to have been too afraid to say anything to me about the contents in order to help her process it. Public libraries are a different case.
Ms. Yingling

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Mrs. Yingling for your honesty and sensitivity; I understand perfectly the issue you’re describing. Some children will simply not be ready for it on their own, but with parents and children reading together and discussing, it can work. All the best, Tony Abbott