Man, this was a hard book to read and, strangely enough, a hard book to put down. Katrina Kittle’s novel tells the story of widowed, Sarah, and her two sons, Danny, 10, and Nate, 16. Like many other novels these days, Kittle employs alternating viewpoints, allowing the story to be told (mainly) from Sarah and Nate’s points of view. And Jordan’s.
In fact, this is Jordan’s story. He’s a classmate of Danny’s. One day Sarah sees him walking along the road in the pouring rain and she stops to pick him up. He seems ill, more than ill and when he asks to stop at a service station port-a-potty to be sick, she does. Her mother senses are jangling like crazy and when she goes to check on him, she discovers that he’s collapsed with a hypodermic needle jabbed in his neck.
Jordan’s mother, Courtney, is Sarah’s best friend, but Jordan’s desperate act opens a dark door into his life and this story asks Sarah and the reader to step through it. The Kindness of Strangers is about the worst kind of abuse and it doesn’t shy away from the topic. Sarah and her sons are barely recovered from the death of their husband and father when they are called upon to help Jordan. In some ways the social network depicted in this novel seems like a best-case scenario; Jordan has some caring adults in his corner, but to live in today’s world is to know that that is often just fiction.
Kittle does a terrific job of getting us into Sarah’s headspace: her horror over what her best friend has been accused of, her horror over what Jordan has suffered, her struggle to balance her own issues with the day to day business of running a house and business and looking after two sons. She was equally adept at letting us see what motivates Nate, a character who is both flippant and incredibly mature. Finally, Jordan’s voice is heartbreaking; the mother in me nearly wept every time he spoke.
The main story of The Kindness of Strangers is bracketed with chapters from Danny. I think I understand why his is the first and last voices we hear, but I don’t think losing those two chapters would have harmed the book in anyway.
Not everyone will be able to stomach this novel’s subject matter, but if you think you can, it’s a fantastic book about a very serious topic.