This taut claustrophobic mystery is preceded by a hundreds of starlings falling from the sky during a baseball match giving the inhabitants of Mt. Oanoke in Pennsylvania something to talk about until a much bigger story comes along.
The bigger story is just as unwelcome as having the pitch covered with the corpses of birds. Nate Winters popular teacher is accused of something terrible. Nate isn’t just popular with his pupils, the parents love him, and he is one of their own. Alecia his wife doesn’t know what to believe and nor does his best friend Bridget but this is a story that isn’t going to fade away.
This is a slow-burner of a novel and although it isn’t confusing, there is an awful lot to get to grips with, including child neglect, grief, autism, self-harming, bullying and the list goes on while in the foreground the reader experiences through a man accused, wrongly in his assurances to anyone who will listen, and the way this has a ripple effect throughout the whole town.
This is a book that takes you into a modern school somewhere whose setting is familiar to many but the division of students happens on social media as well as in the classroom. The sympathetic teacher who persuades these near adults to write journals doesn’t have the context of those who follow their lives in this hidden world where alliances are made and rumours strengthened to reality.
I love small town settings and the author really does bring Mt Oanoke to life. This former thriving town where so many of the inhabitants were employed by the mill is now a shadow of its former glory and it’s hardly surprising that many of the teenagers are looking for an escape route. This is a place where eyes are everywhere, except of course when they are needed to see the importance of what is going on, a place where the accused stays with a local police officer as he has nowhere else to go and a place where what happens in the school has consequences for the whole community.
The storyline switches backwards and forwards, fortunately not over a huge time-scale but enough for each of our four main protagonists; Nate, Alecia, Bridget and Lucia to give some background to their reality as well as providing some context for the main storyline. This is a great technique for providing the reader with plenty of different opinions and scenarios to mull over, but possibly it caused it to become overly wordy in places although there is no doubting it helps to add layers of tension and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness for all four characters which of course is echoed by the setting itself.
I was caught up in the plot, I wanted to know what had happened, and not just to those birds, and as the story wove itself backwards and forwards it was clear that very little of the storyline could be divided into black and white and certainly not the characters.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Titan Books who provided me with a copy to read for review purposes.