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Only Child By Rhiannon Navin: Book Summary

Updated on February 17, 2018
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An avid book nerd, Jennifer Branton loves to share her favorite book finds with her readers.

Land Of Confusion

Rhiannon Navin's debut novel Only Child could have been ripped from the headlines considering the last weeks events at a high school in Florida. Rather than glamorize the violence and action of the gunman, Navin writes in a quiet tone beckoning to be heard with first grader Zach as the voice for the novel, seeing the events of the tragedy and its aftermath through a child's mind.

Zach was hidden in a classroom closet by his quick thinking teacher along with several other students. The school had practiced Lock Down Procedure before and they were prepared as they could be in the event. Zach's whole class was safe and escorted across the street by police officers, but the first grader couldn't help but notice bodies laying in the hallway and blood everywhere, the sounds of crying and children throwing up as they walked single file and the police tried to get them to avert their eyes. Upon reaching the church, Zach instantly realizes he has to go to the bathroom but wasn't allowed to leave the room. He sit on the hard pew, his bladder painfully thumping until his mother arrives.

So thankful to see his mother, Melissa has come for him, Zach starts to ask again about the bathroom and about going to have dinner as his stomach is rumbling loudly. It is only then revealed that the family has a second child, Andy who is not with the group inside the church.

Zach's father arrives and after they have combed the church for Andy, police then advise anyone that can't find their children at the church must have an injured child at the hospital. Zach is taken with Melissa to the hospital, she snips at his out of panic there is no time to use the bathroom and he eventually shamefully goes in his pants. Jim, Zach's father stays behind to see if there is any news about children not present that will be revealed.

When Melissa gets near the hospital, there is a huge traffic jam and her nerves are shot, she can't go any further in traffic so after a phone conversation with Jim, she is instructed to abandon the car anywhere in the lawn and just go to the hospital on foot. Melissa parks on a sidewalk and runs towing Zach along. Inside the hospital they aren't given any information either.

It isn't until Jim arrives that the new is delivered that Andy was one of the casualties.

Trying to recover from their own grief for their loss, thankful for the survival of one child life for the new few days is a balancing act between the media, planning a funeral, and explaining to Zach how the gunman, the son of the school's trusted security guard, Charlie; had been to blame for the shooting. Explained to have mental issues and be a bit jealous of his father's adoration for the school children he has worked with for over thirty years, Charlie's son had taken to writing messages on social media talking of his disdain for the school children.

Melissa finds here strength in doing, she wants to have survivor groups, do constant media, she wants to find meaning in what has happened, blaming Charlie's family for not seeing what was about to take place, saying that they didn't know their own child.

But there is a secret in the the family, that Andy was a troubled child too diagnosed with mental illness with frequent outbursts and a bit of aggression. Zach constantly remembers the family fighting and having to punish Andy for his actions. He remembers that Andy saw a therapist for his condition. Melissa's anger at Charlie for his own son is projecting what she thought she could have seen in the future for Andy on him.

Melissa's relationship with Zach is falling apart. He is just trying to find understanding in this new world after what has happened to him and how to live without his brother- whom Zach does admit quiet pleasure for the loss of though as Andy was a frequent bully to him.

Jim tries to pick up the slack in parenting, being included in the secret hideout that Zach has made in Andy's closet, being more patient and trying to keep things normal for Zach during the transition.

Jim has his own guilty secret though that comes out at this time and keeps knocking at the door, as Zach sees Jim frequently rushing away a woman that he recognizes as the mother of one of Andy's classmates.


The family is conflicted in how to feel now, enthralled to still have Zach but unable to find peace after the loss of the Andy in this terrible tragedy. They are unwilling to extend forgiveness to the family of the shooter, someone that Melissa has known her whole life.

Finding Love In Loss

Jim keeps rushing away the woman from the house, Zach recognizes her as the mother of Ricky, a classmate that was also in the auditorium for the assembly where Andy had lost his life. A man had come from a reptile place that day and was showing the upperclassmen snakes and aquatic life and Zach can't help but wonder if the snakes were still in the school. He wonders a lot of things now, like how the souls of people like Ricky and Andy got to Heaven if their bodies are locked in the school.

It is revealed that after Ricky's mother commits suicide by sitting in her running car inside the garage, that Jim had some sort of affair with her, confirmed by her suicide note being addressed to him and Melissa kicks Jim out of the house.

With Jim being the only parent really dotting on Zach these days as Melissa doesn't realize in her crusade of media that she is actually damaging Zach more to the point where he throws a fit on set and breaks one of the cameras, Zach feels so isolated and lonely than he sits in his hideout and thinks up a plan. In his head it wasn't any really big plan, he knew that he had to talk to Charlie, whom had tried to come around several times only to be chased away by Melissa.

His son, the gunman had been killed by police and was buried in the same cemetery as Andy, and the news reported that every night Charlie was seen at the graveside to talk to his son. Zach left the house unnoticed and trudged down to the cemetery to look for his friend Charlie although the little boy didn't know the impact of his actions.

He does find Andy's grave along the way and makes some sort of peace with his fallen brother, before coming across the older man. Charlie is shocked to see Zach, who he recognizes as his "little buddy" from the hallways at school. Immediately he asks to take Zach back to his family, but Zach first wants Charlie to understand that he doesn't hate Charlie's son for what happened. He says that he had heard Jim say that the teenager had a sickness and he couldn't tell right from wrong anymore and that what happened wasn't really his fault. This is something Melissa would not agree with.

Charlie is touch that Zach can find forgiveness though the youngster doesn't know that is what he is describing. Charlie offers to drive Zach home but only partway since he is afraid of seeing Melissa. When Zach comes home police are already in the home looking for him and both parents are united, gleeful that he is OK.

Zach explains that he went to see Charlie and that the man is sad too as he also lost a child and doesn't understand the actions of his son anymore than anyone else did. Charlie feels guilty for the pain this has brought upon others and understands why people want to shun him. Zach just says that he wants everyone to be happy again and takes Melissa to show her his hideout and they reconnect over the pictures he has drawn and hung in Andy's closet uniting the two spaces to belong to both boys.

Slowly the family is healing, but it will be a long process and maybe they will never get there. This is where the Only Child ends, leaving it up to the reader interruption of what might have taken place afterwards only explaining that Zach was walking through the house on the way to bed book-ended by his parents.

This powerful debut novel by Rhiannon Navin is everything that is in the media each time one of these school place shootings take place but few take it from the perspective of a surviving child and a grieving family trying to get the pieces back in place after such an event.

The parallel between Charlie's troubled child and Melissa's was a great connection 879to the reader as well proving that given other circumstances this could just have easily have been Melissa in Charlie's place if her son Andy hadn't been getting help for his anger issues early on.

Zach without meaning to teaches the adults in his life about forgiveness and that is the greatest moment in this novel.


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