The Kindness of Strangers is an exceptional book about a troubled ten-year-old boy and how the revelation of his horrific life comes to be public news, affecting all those around him. The book opens in the present, with a family waiting to celebrate a wedding. It is a happier time, but they allude to something that happened twelve years ago when a news event in their town took over their lives and changed them forever.
The book then moves back into the past. Sarah Laden has been a widow of two years, raising two boys. Danny is eleven, and his brother Nate is about to turn seventeen. Raising two boys is tough to begin with, but after their fatherís death, Nate in particular has been in trouble often.
One day Sarah sees the next door neighbor's child, Jordan, walking outside and apparently late for school. She offers to take him to school in her car; he is hesitant but agrees. When he begins to feel sick, he demands that she drop him off somewhere so he can use the restroom. They find a rather filthy Porta-potty along the way. When he takes a long time to return outside, Sarah goes to check on him. When she opens up the privy door, finds him near death on the filthy floor with a needle stuck in his neck.
Jordanís life has been a mystery to the rest of the world but soon becomes public after his suicide attempt. Sarah rushes Jordan to the hospital (where his mother is a doctor). After the doctors examine him, the police are called to the scene. Jordan's father disappears, his mother is arrested, and what Sarah and her neighbors find out shocks everyone. The news soon broadcast all over town and on national television is that Jordan's parents are wanted for child pornography and incest.
There is proof on videos of what has been going on in the house next door to Sarah's, and Sarah is devastated; she had considered Courtney, Jordanís mother, one of her best friends. Sarah is in denial as she constantly defends her friend, feeling that the police have it wrong. Yes, Mark was guilty (he fled the crime scene, didnít he?), but Courtney?
Nate has had his own encounters with Courtney, advances that were inappropriate between a woman her age and a young man his age. Nate keeps this to himself, not realizing how important this information may have been. Danny, on the other hand, was once Jordan's best friend, but weeks before Jordanís suicide attempt, Jordan and Danny argue. Danny no longer cares what happens to Jordan, even ridiculing the whole news story, not taking Jordan's plight seriously.
Sarah cannot believe what is going on with Jordan, let alone her troubled sons. Her life is difficult enough after the death of her husband, and when Nate suggests they bring Jordan home to live with them temporarily (to avoid Jordan going to foster homes), she does not know what to do. But Jordan does move in, and life changes drastically for all of them.
The Kindness of Strangers is a fascinating novel that I finished reading in one day. The author alternates viewpoints between Danny, Jordan, Sarah, and Nate, giving the reader a comprehensive look into two families whose lives have become headline news overnight. In this psychologically-focused story, the thoughts of all four main characters are always at the forefront, while the story of Jordan and his mother keeps the reader intrigued, learning about Courtney's childhood and what made her the woman she has become. Revelations of Jordanís horrific experiences explain why he has always been such a ďstrangeĒ young boy, making statements such as wanting to be an angel. Well-written characters all come across as three-dimensional and realistic, growing and developing before our eyes. The surprise ending comes out of the blue and may be sensationalistic, but at the same time it is a natural conclusion to an already dramatic tale about incest and child pornography.
Despite its sometimes horrifying content, The Kindness of Strangers is highly recommended. It does not come across as melodramatic or overly done at all. A story that focuses on a tragedy and how those involved react to it, Katrina Kittleís novel is one that is not easily forgotten.