Only Child: A Novel by Rhiannon NavinOnly Child: A Novel by Rhiannon Navin

Only Child: A Novel

byRhiannon Navin

Hardcover | February 6, 2018

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Only Child triumphs. Zach, at only 6 years old, understands more about the human heart than the broken adults around him. His hope and optimism as he sets out to execute his plan will have every reader cheering him on, and believing in happy endings even in the face of such tragedy. . . . Navin manages to make Zach’s voice heartbreakingly believable.”—Ann Hood, The Washington Post

“Perfect for fans of Room… a heartbreaking but important novel.” —Real Simple 

 
Readers of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty will also like this tenderhearted debut about healing and family, narrated by an unforgettable six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest.
 
Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach''s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter''s parents, holding them responsible for their son''s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.
Rhiannon Navin grew up in Bremen, Germany, in a family of book-crazy women. Her career in advertising brought her to New York, where she worked for several large agencies before becoming a full-time mother and writer. She now lives outside New York City with her husband, three children, two cats, and a dog. This is her first novel.
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Title:Only Child: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:304 pages, 9.6 X 6.7 X 1.1 inPublished:February 6, 2018Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1524733350

ISBN - 13:9781524733353

Appropriate for ages: All ages

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Read from the Book

[1]The Day the Gunman CameThe thing I later remembered the most about the day the gunman came was my teacher Miss Russell’s breath. It was hot and smelled like coffee. The closet was dark except for a little light that was coming in through the crack of the door that Miss Russell was holding shut from inside. There was no door handle on the inside, only a loose metal piece, and she pulled it in with her thumb and pointer finger.“Be completely still, Zach,” she whispered. “Don’t move.”I didn’t. Even though I was sitting on my left foot and it was giving me pins and needles and it hurt a lot.Miss Russell’s coffee breath touched my cheek when she talked, and it bothered me a little. Her fingers were shaking on the metal piece. She had to talk to Evangeline and David and Emma a lot behind me in the closet, because they were crying and were not being completely still.“I’m here with you guys,” Miss Russell said. “I’m protecting you. Shhhhhhh, please be quiet.” We kept hearing the POP sounds outside. And screaming.POP POP POPIt sounded a lot like the sounds from the Star Wars game I sometimes play on the Xbox.POP POP POPAlways three pops and then quiet again. Quiet or screaming. Miss Russell did little jumps when the POP sounds came and her whispering got faster. “Don’t make a sound!” Evangeline made hiccupping sounds.POP Hick POP Hick POP HickI think someone peed in their underwear, because it smelled like that in the closet. Like Miss Russell’s breath and pee, and like the jackets that were still wet from when it rained at recess. “Not too much to play outside,” Mrs. Colaris said. “What, are we made of sugar?” The rain didn’t bother us. We played soccer and cops and bad guys, and our hair and jackets got wet. I tried to turn and put my hand up and touch the jackets to see if they were still very wet.“Don’t move,” Miss Russell whispered to me. She switched hands to hold the door closed, and her bracelets made jingling sounds. Miss Russell always wears a lot of bracelets on her right arm. Some have little things called charms hanging off them that remind her of special things, and when she goes on vacation she always gets a new charm to remember it. When we started first grade, she showed us all her charms and told us where she got them from. Her new one that she got on the summer break was a boat. It’s like a tiny version of the boat she went on to go really close to a huge waterfall called Niagara Falls, and that’s in Canada.My left foot really started to hurt a lot, and I tried to pull it out only a little so Miss Russell wouldn’t notice.We just came in from recess and put our jackets in the closet, then math books out, when the POP sounds started. At first we didn’t hear them loud—they were like all the way down the hallway in the front where Charlie’s desk is. When parents come to pick you up before dismissal or at the nurse’s office, they always stop at Charlie’s desk and write down their name and show their driver’s license and get a tag that says visitor on a red string, and they have to wear it around their neck.Charlie is the security guy at McKinley, and he’s been here for thirty years. When I was in kindergarten, last year, we had a big party in the auditorium to celebrate his thirty years. Even a lot of parents came because he was the security guy already when they were kids and went to McKinley, like Mommy. Charlie said he didn’t need a party. “I already know everyone loves me,” he said, and laughed his funny laugh. But he got a party anyway, and I thought he looked happy about it. He put up all the artwork we made for him for the party around his desk and took the rest home to hang it up. My picture for him was right in the middle at the front of his desk because I’m a really good artist.Pop pop popQuiet pop sounds at first. Miss Russell was right in the middle of telling us about what pages in the math book were for classwork and what pages were for homework. The pop sounds made her stop talking, and she made wrinkles on her forehead. She walked over to the classroom door and looked out of the glass window. “What the . . . ,” she said.Pop pop popThen she took a big step back away from the door and said, “Fuck.” She really did. The F-word, we all heard it and started laughing. “Fuck.” Right after she said it, we heard sounds coming from the intercom on the wall, and then a voice said, “Lockdown, lockdown, lockdown!” It wasn’t Mrs. Colaris’s voice. When we practiced lockdown drill before, Mrs. Colaris said, “Lockdown!” through the intercom, once, but this voice said it a lot of times, fast.Miss Russell’s face got whitish and we stopped laughing because she looked so different and wasn’t smiling at all. The way her face looked all of a sudden made me scared, and my breath got stuck in my throat.Miss Russell did a couple circles by the door like she didn’t know where she should walk. Then she stopped doing circles and locked the door and switched the lights off. No sun was coming in from the windows because of the rain, but Miss Russell went to the windows and pulled the shades down anyway. She started talking very fast and her voice sounded shaky and like squeaky. “Remember what we practiced for the lockdown drill,” she said. I remembered that lockdown meant don’t go outside like for the fire alarm, but stay inside and out of sight.POP POP POPSomeone outside in the hallway screamed very loud. My legs started shaking around the knees.“Boys and girls, everyone in the closet,” Miss Russell said.When we practiced lockdown drill before, it was fun. We pretended that we were the bad guys and only sat in the closet for like a minute until we heard how Charlie opened the classroom door from the outside with his special key that can open all the doors in the school, and we heard him say: “It’s me, Charlie!” and that was the sign that the drill was over. Now I didn’t want to go in the closet because almost everyone else was already in there, and it looked too smushed. But Miss Russell put her hand on my head and pushed me in.“Hurry, guys, hurry,” Miss Russell said. Evangeline especially and David and some other kids started to cry and said they wanted to go home. I felt tears coming in my eyes, too, but I didn’t want to let them come out and all my friends were going to see. I did the squeeze-away trick I learned from Grandma: you have to squeeze your nose on the outside with your fingers, the part where it goes from hard to soft, and then your tears don’t come out. Grandma taught me the squeeze-away trick at the playground one day when I was about to cry because someone pushed me off the swing and Grandma said, “Don’t let them see you cry.”Miss Russell got everyone in the closet and pulled the door shut. The whole time we could hear the POP sounds. I tried to count them in my head.POP—1 POP—2 POP—3My throat felt very dry and scratchy. I really wanted a drink of water.POP—4 POP—5 POP—6“Please, please, please,” Miss Russell whispered. And then she talked to God and she called him “Dear Lord” and I couldn’t understand the rest she said because she was whispering so quiet and fast and I think she wanted only God to hear.POP—7 POP—8 POP—9Always three POPs and then a break.Miss Russell all of a sudden looked up and said, “Fuck,” again. “My phone!” She opened the door a little and when there weren’t any POP sounds for a while she opened it all the way and ran across the classroom to her desk with her head ducked down. Then she ran back to the closet. She pulled the door closed again and told me to hold the metal piece this time. I did, even though it hurt my fingers and the door was heavy to keep closed. I had to use both hands.Miss Russell’s hands were shaking so much they made the phone shake when she swiped and put her password in. She kept doing it wrong, and when you put the wrong password in all the numbers on the screen shake and you have to start over. “Come on, come on, come on,” Miss Russell said, and finally she got the password right. I saw it: 1989.POP—10 POP—11 POP—12I watched how Miss Russell dialed 9-1-1. When I heard a voice in the phone, she said, “Yes, hi, I’m calling from McKinley Elementary. In Wake Gardens. Rogers Lane.” She talked very fast, and in the light that came from her phone I could see that she spit on my leg a little bit. I had to leave the spit there because my hands were holding the door closed. I couldn’t wipe it off, but I stared at the spit and it was there on my pants, a spit bubble, and it was gross. “There ’s a gunman at the school and he ’s . . . OK, I’ll stay on the phone with you then.” To us she whispered, “Someone already called.” Gunman. That’s what she said. And then all I could think about in my head was gunman.POP—13 Gunman POP—14 Gunman POP—15 GunmanI felt like it was hard to breathe now in the closet and very hot, like we used up all the air. I wanted to open the door a little to let some new air in, but I was too scared. I could feel my heart beating at super speed inside my chest and all the way up in my throat. Nicholas next to me had his eyes squeezed shut tight and was making fast breathing sounds. He was using up too much air.Miss Russell had her eyes closed, too, but her breathing was slow. I could smell the coffee smell when she went “Huuuuuu” to let some long breaths out. Then she opened her eyes and whispered to us again. She said everyone’s name: “Nicholas. Jack. Evangeline . . .” It felt good when she said, “Zach, it will be all right.” To all of us she said, “The police are outside. They are coming to help. And I am right here.” I was glad she was right there, and her talking helped me feel not so scared. The coffee breath didn’t bother me so much anymore. I pretended it was Daddy’s breath in the morning when he was home for breakfast on the weekends. I tried coffee before and didn’t like it. It tastes too hot and old or something. Daddy laughed and said, “Good, stunts your growth anyway.” I don’t know what that means, but I really wished Daddy could be here right now. But he wasn’t, only Miss Russell and my class and the POP sounds—POP—16 POP—17 POP—18—sounding really loud now and screams in the hallway and more crying in the closet. Miss Russell stopped talking to us and instead she talked into the phone: “Oh God, he ’s getting closer. Are you coming? Are you coming?” Twice. Nicholas opened his eyes and said, “Oh!” and then he threw up. All over his shirt, and some throw-up got in Emma’s hair and on my shoes in the back. Emma did a loud shrieking sound and Miss Russell put her hands over Emma’s mouth. She dropped the phone and it fell in the throw-up on the floor. Through the door I could hear sirens. I’m really good at telling different sirens apart, the ones from fire trucks, police cars, ambulances . . . but now I heard so many outside that I couldn’t tell—they were all mixed together.POP—19 POP—20 POP—21Everything was hot and wet and smelled bad and I started to feel dizzy from it all and my stomach didn’t feel good. Then all of a sudden it was quiet. I couldn’t hear any more POPs. Just the crying and hiccupping in the closet.And THEN there were a TON of POPs that sounded like they were right by us, a lot of them in a row, and loud sounds like stuff crashing and breaking. Miss Russell screamed and covered her ears, and we screamed and covered our ears. The closet door opened because I let go of the metal piece and light came into the closet and it hurt my eyes. I tried to keep counting the POPs, but there were too many. Then they stopped.Everything was completely still, even us, and no one moved a muscle. It was like we weren’t even breathing. We stayed like that for a very long time—still and quiet.Then someone was at our classroom door. We could hear the door handle, and Miss Russell let out her breath in little puffs, like “huh, huh, huh.” There was a knock on the door and a loud man voice said, “Hello, anyone in there?”

Bookclub Guide

“Only Child triumphs. Zach, at only 6 years old, understands more about the human heart than the broken adults around him. His hope and optimism as he sets out to execute his plan will have every reader cheering him on, and believing in happy endings even in the face of such tragedy. . . . Navin manages to make Zach’s voice heartbreakingly believable.”—Ann Hood, The Washington Post“Perfect for fans of Room… a heartbreaking but important novel.” —Real Simple  Readers of Jodi Picoult and Liane Moriarty will also like this tenderhearted debut about healing and family, narrated by an unforgettable six-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest. Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach''s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter''s parents, holding them responsible for their son''s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.1. In the opening lockdown scene, Zach repeatedly focuses on external sensations—the smell of Miss Russell’s breath, the stuffiness in the closet, the popping sounds coming from the hallway. What does this tell us about how Zach perceives the world? What insight does it give us into who he is as a child, and as a narrator?2. After overcoming her shock, Zach’s mom campaigns against the parents of the shooter in an attempt to hold them accountable for their son’s actions. Do you agree with her, or do you think she is out of line?3. Reading the Magic Tree House books aloud “to Andy” helps Zach cope with his grief. Which books have helped you through difficult times in your life?4. In their review of Only Child, Kirkus Reviews said of the Magic Tree House series, “Seems like a lot of people, and not just the ones in this novel, need to reread those books.” What are the “secrets to happiness”? Do you try to live by these rules? How do you think you could incorporate them into your daily life?5. Zach uses colors to help him understand his emotions better. What do you think about Zach’s justifications for his choices? Which colors would use to represent your emotions? Do you think colors have an impact on your mood?6. On page 114, Zach says, “People start to forget about you after you die and they can’t see you all the time anymore. It was already happening with Andy. I started to notice that at his funeral that was on the day after the wake. Everyone was talking about Andy, but they talked about him like they only remembered some parts of him, not all the parts. . . . It was like they weren’t really talking about Andy or they were starting to forget about what he was like.” Do we do a disservice to our loved ones when we only remember them at their best?7. Do you think Zach should have returned to school earlier, or that he was sent back before he was ready? What role does Miss Russell play in helping Zach heal? Do you think Zach learns to trust school as a safe place again?8. Zach suffers from survivor’s guilt after Andy’s death, feeling that everyone might have been happier if he’d died instead. How does Aunt Mary help Zach work through these feelings? What does she teach him about family?9. Zach’s TV interview is traumatic for him. If you were in his mom’s position, would you have put Zach on camera? Why did she insist, and why didn’t any of the other adults intervene?10. What do you make of Zach’s perceived betrayal by Dexter? Did Dexter fail Zach when he needed a friend most, or was he just doing his job? Do you think Zach sees the situation more or less clearly because he’s a child?11. If you had to trade places with any of the characters, who would it be? Why? Who would you least like to trade places with?12. According to the Gun Violence Archive (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org), nearly four thousand children and teens were hurt or killed by gun violence in 2017. Do you think there is anything we could be doing to prevent these injuries and deaths?13. Many books have been written about school shootings but none from the point of view of such a young child. Why do you think the author wrote this book from Zach’s perspective instead of an adult’s? Did having such a young narrator teach you anything new about surviving tragedy?14. If you could give Zach one piece of advice to help guide him as he grows up, what would it be?

Editorial Reviews

"Perfect for fans of Room, this heartbreaking but important novel offers a new perspective on trauma and reminds readers that hope can be found in even the darkest moments." —Real Simple "Five Books That Won''t Disappoint""It''s hard to imagine a more timely novel than Only Child. Told from the perspective of a 6-year-old boy, Zach Taylor . . . the book is a heartbreaking exploration of grief, family, and resilience in the face of immeasurable tragedy [and] a story that feels more fact than fiction."--Gina Mei, Shondaland.com"This emotional tale . . . sinks its hooks into you from the very first sentence and is a captivating exploration of a family''s struggle to knit itself together after an act of violence." —Marie Claire"This hotly anticipated debut novel takes on topics both timely and tragically universal: school shootings, love, loss, forgiveness, and pain." —Glamour "All the Books We Can''t Wait to Read in 2018""A novel with a child-narrator you can''t help but love." —E. CE Miller, Bustle "19 Debut Novels Coming Out In 2018 That You Definitely Won''t Want To Miss" "Congrats to Rhiannon Navin--this is an outstanding debut." —Harlan Coben"An astonishing debut novel." —Publishers Weekly"One of the big debuts of next year." —Library Journal"A powerful exercise in empathy and perspective." —Kirkus Reviews Get to know debut novelist Rhiannon NavinQ: This is your first novel. How long have you been writing? Rhiannon Navin: Only Child was my first real foray into the world of writing. I have dabbled with writing here and there since I was in high school. An avid reader my whole life, authors are like rock stars to me. I always admired them from afar, but never seriously considered trying my hand at writing myself. I guess it took something that really rattled me to the core to open up the floodgates. It was like this story was already there, waiting for me. I don’t know how else to explain it. I sat down one day and wrote down the opening scene of Zach hiding in his classroom closet in one sitting. The scene just flowed out of me. I scribbled furiously, in one of my kids’ school notebooks, barely coming up for air. And just liked that I was hooked. Q: Only Child definitely celebrates the power of books. The Magic Tree House books are Zach’s favorites. Why did you decide to include those books are part of the novel? And what were some of the books that you most loved as a child?RN: The Magic Tree House books are some of my kids’ favorite books. Mary Pope Osborne created a series that truly is magical and my kids loved discovering new worlds or different time periods with Jack and Annie. When I first started writing Only Child, I wasn’t planning on including them. That is something that happened organically. As Zach began to retreat to his hideout and to find ways to cope with his feelings, books occurred to me as a natural outlet for him. Because books can be such a great escape sometimes. You dive into another world and get to sample someone else’s life, and you (hopefully) emerge having learned something that you didn’t know or haven’t considered before. Growing up in Germany, I mostly read books by German authors such as Janosch, Paul Maar, and Judith Kerr. I devoured anything written by Astrid Lindgren. The Pippi Longstocking books are still some of my favorites.     Q: Tell us a little about the colors Zach uses to describe his feelings and how they inform the novel?RN: I’m a very visual, creative person and to me, it’s like Zach says: "the colors come attached to the feelings." I intuitively gravitated towards art and the use of paint and colors when I tried to imagine how Zach might try to navigate his confusing and lonely situation after the shooting. The scene where Zach begins to paint his “feelings pages” is a central scene in my story. It is the moment Zach begins to find ways, on his own, to confront the trauma he’s experienced and deal with his conflicting and confusing emotions. Once Zach discovers that he can separate his feelings instead of having them “all mixed up,” they seem more manageable to him, easier to tackle one by one. He is able to do something the adults cannot--understand that every feeling is important and valid.