On the afternoon on his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire.
I was nine.
It was all about Bobby’s birthday present.
A baseball glove.
Gail Giles YA novel Right Behind You grabbed me from the start. It’s the story of Kip McFarland who lives a hardscrabble life with his father in the Alaskan wilderness. Kip’s mom has recently died of cancer, and you get the impression that Kip and his father aren’t coping too well.
When Bobby Clarke shows up to gloat about his new baseball glove, Kip overreacts and douses him with gasoline. What happens next is shocking and tragic and changes Kip’s life forever.
Kip spends the next five years of his life in a locked down psychiatric facility. The reader has a front row seat to Kip’s therapy, and his own attempts to sabotage his recovery. But life does go on for Kip and his father once Kip is released. Right Behind You drags the reader along with Kip as he struggles to reinvent himself.
This story is successful on a couple fronts. For one thing, the writing is interesting. I loved the line: The hollow inside me filled up with red mean. I liked it so much, I stopped to copy it down when I read it. I also loved Kip and that’s saying something because, let’s face it, what he does to Bobby is inexcusable even if he was only nine. He’s smart and he has the ability to scratch beneath the surface of his own psyche. He doesn’t always like what he finds, but that’s what makes him human.
The story takes us from Alaska to the Texan coast and even though several years transpire, I never felt as though Giles was rushing to the conclusion. And when Kip gets there – to the next part of his story – readers will wish him peace because he’s earned it.