Kids in Fiction, Redux
The link I originally put up to this blog post, originally written for the Emily Bryan blog, was bad, so I thought I'd repost here.
As a reader and a writer, I’ve found children in books to be a pretty dicey proposition. Nothing nauseates me like an overly-precious or disgustingly-precocious kiddo sapping up the pages. Seriously. And throw in a lisp or baby-talk, and You Have Now Entered the Wall-Banger Zone.
As both a mom and a former teacher, I appreciate children as they really are, complete with the tendency to pinball from annoying (PING!) to adorable (PING-PING) to hysterical (both the HA-HA and the WAHHH kind!) in an instant. As a result, I work hard to depict them that way, as I did with the heroine’s four-year-old daughter, Zoe, in Beneath Bone Lake.
But I write pretty intense romantic suspense, and the premise of this story, which involves a young widow returning from Iraq only to find her family missing, her house in flames, and her life turned upside down by a caller who claims to be a kidnapper, led me into even more dangerous territory: the child in jeopardy story.
Now as a reader who’s also a mom, nothing gets my heart pounding faster than the thought of a child in danger. If there’s even a whiff of such a thing within the opening pages, I’m instantly riveted, as I have been in great child-in-jeopardy stories such as Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean and Linda Howard’s heartrending Cry No More. In both cases, I could barely sleep until I knew if the child would be safe with the viewpoint character.
In other cases, such as John Grisham’s excellent first novel, A Time to Kill, which opens with a graphic depiction of a horrific act of violence against a little girl, I was literally sickened. (It was a real act of faith in the author that I finished that book, the beginning upset me so much. And quite a few readers couldn’t stomach it.) And I’ve certainly avoided other books and movies where violence against a child is both intense and on-screen, shown happening in real time.
For my taste, the most compelling suspense comes in the parent’s imagination, when his/her child is out of sight and reach. The awful period of not knowing raises our anxiety, whether it’s over one’s toddler who’s wandered away in the grocery store or the sixteen year-old new driver who fails to show up at curfew. (As the mother of a teenager, I can think of no sound more harrowing than that of sirens from the road when my kiddo’s out late at night.)
For this reason, I see no reason to ever depict actual violence against a child, not when the fear of it is so much more powerful.
So what about the rest of you? Do you enjoy reading books containing children in some or all cases? What particularly bother you about some books featuring kids?