Growing up too fast

Growing up too fast

The Last Child; by John Hart; Minotaur Books; 2009

For most people, childhood means carefree days, a feeling of security and hours of play. That’s not what childhood is like for Johnny Merrimon. Johnny lives in a world of deceit and abuse, which set him on an arduous quest. His face is framed with black strands, his eyes dark and pained. His classmates call him a freak, the community thinks he’s troubled. And after his sister disappeared one year ago, his family fell apart. Definitely not the setup for a happy go-lucky summer read, John Hart’s The Last Child takes readers on a journey into the dark world of a very tortured 13-year-old boy living on the North Carolina coast. “Having a thriller based around a 13-year-old kid, I had to ask myself some pretty tough questions,” John Hart said. “What would take away the perfect life this boy had? How would he react to the brutality of his changed circumstances? Where would he find the strength to deal with that change and what dangerous path would that strength take him down?” Hart answers these proposed questions with painful honesty. He examines the difficult reality of losing a piece of yourself and what that loss does to the way you view the world. Johnny Merrimon must adapt to a world without parents and without love. Things get out of control as he discovers the presence of sexual predators in his neighborhood who may be responsible for his sister’s disappearance. He scopes out the homes of these dangerous men, waiting for the clue that can crack open this mystery. Also on the case is Detective Clyde Hunt, whose failure to return the girl to her parents or even give them the closure of her death leaves him with an intense feeling of guilt. His obsession with the open case drives his wife to divorce and his son to hatred. Hunt shows true compassion for Johnny, something few other characters do throughout the book, but when another young girl goes missing Hunt begins to see a darker, meaner side to Johnny; one that will stop at nothing to find answers to his questions. As Hunt desperately scrambles to solve the latest missing child case he struggles with his own feelings for Johnny’s mother, Katherine, feelings that are putting his career in jeopardy and prompting some undesirable rumors about town. Katherine lives a nightmare: Her only daughter is missing and presumed dead; she is a junkie, and a very unattractive and abusive man takes advantage of her weaknesses and her son. A year after her daughter’s disappearance, she is a pale, sunken, apathetic version of her former self. Johnny hates her for this but cannot leave her side. And he still needs to know what happened to his sister. John Hart achieves brilliance with his latest novel. Few authors collect the pain and thoughts of their characters so brilliantly and poignantly. “Dangerous fiction makes for interesting fiction,” Hart said. “For fiction to be dangerous that means the writer has to take a lot of chances. What makes me most proud of this book is that I took loads of chances knowing full well that I could be shooting myself in the foot and the fact that all those chances have paid off have made the book the strongest thing that I’ve ever done.”

John Hart achieves brilliance with his latest novel.