Robbie Young is an ordinary twelve-year-old boy about to drop a bombshell that will devastate his small town family. One day he rides his bike home after school, finds his mother in the kitchen making dinner, and speaks aloud the secret he's been keeping for a year, "Jerry Houseman's been touching me." Robbie has been molested and the Young family will never be the same. From that moment on, the novel unfolds with inexorable power. The story is narrated in four parts: first by Robbie's mother, then by Jerry Houseman himself, then by Houseman's wife Linda, and concluded by Robbie himself fifteen years later, when he has returned to town for a high school reunion. Each voice is remarkably persuasive and utterly convincing, and the result is a novel that is impossible to put down as it is impossible to forget.
Honest, unpretentious prose characterizes this first novel about a case of criminal sexual misconduct and two families in crisis. In the opening chapter, set in 1980, Linda Young, 33, who lives in a "friendly, safe" neighborhood in Jackson, Mich., describes the moment when her 12-year-old son, Robbie, drops "his bomb": "Jerry Houseman's been touching me." Robbie says the abuse has been going on for "a while," which stretches into a few months, then a year. Jerry, a neighbor with three daughters, has been showering Robbie with gifts, treating him like a surrogate son-or so Linda has assumed. Robbie begs his mother not to tell anyone, but she and her husband call the police. Campbell delivers the story of Jerry's arrest, trial and the aftermath, from four points of view. They include Linda's unabashedly angry account, Jerry's detached and sentimental narration and a poignant portrait by Jerry's wife, Jeanette, of her husband, who has been previously attracted to young boys. The final and most convincing voice, that of Robbie as a young adult, gets to the heart of the boy's turmoil. Readers must wade past some superficial narrative here, but they'll find that, through Jeanette and Robbie, Campbell accomplishes the formidable task of illuminating the complex feelings and issues that confront his seemingly ordinary people.