The BookBrowse Review

Published December 5, 2018

ISSN: 1930-0018

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In This Edition of
The BookBrowse Review

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Editor's Introduction
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First Impressions
Recommended for Book Clubs
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Historical Fiction

Short Stories/Essays




History, Science & Current Affairs

True Crime

  • Burned by Edward Humes (rated 5/5)


Young Adults

Short Stories/Essays

  • Black Enough by Ibi Zoboi, Tracey Baptiste, Coe Booth, Dhonielle Clayton, Brandy Colbert (rated 5/5)


Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History

Only Child
Only Child
by Rhiannon Navin

Hardcover (6 Feb 2018), 304 pages.
(Due out in paperback Feb 2019)
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN-13: 9781524733353

For fans of Room and the novels of Jodi Picoult, a dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children, narrated by a 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.

The Day the Gunman Came

The 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.


It sounded a lot like the sounds from the Star Wars game I sometimes play on the Xbox.


Always 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 Hick

I 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.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from Only Child by Rhiannon Navin. Copyright © 2018 by Rhiannon Nevin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  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 (, 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?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Knopf. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

A dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the wisdom of children.

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Rhiannon Navin's debut novel, Only Child received an overall score of 4.8 out of 5 from BookBrowse members, one of the highest ever ratings for a First Impressions book.

What it's about:
The author takes us on a journey most are afraid to contemplate (Maureen R). Only Child is a powerful story of forgiveness and healing told through the dramatic experience of six-year old Zach Taylor. Set against the backdrop of a school shooting, the story reveals the tragedy of the loss of a child through inexplicable violence and the related impacts on marriage, family and community (Peggy C).

Most were impressed by how realistically the book's young narrator was voiced:
The concept of writing this book through the eyes of a 6 year old was brilliant. I felt the author truly captured a child's view of the events - his fears, guilt and loss. It was a good reminder to us that a child can see clearly right from wrong and the importance of love over hate; they don't get caught up in the outside opinions that can influence adults (Terrie J).  Zach's innocent but wise perspective brought me to tears, to laughter and to a host of other emotions in between. I found myself pulling for him to show those much older and presumably wiser how to go on after such a loss (Carol S).  His innocence proves to be both a safeguard and guiding light; and because he is able to find his way through the complexities of this tragedy, so are we. From first page to last, Zack is our champion, and we are his (Maureen R).

Reviewers commented on the challenging nature of the story:
It was sometimes hard to read because of the subject matter. Keep the tissue box handy (Doris K). While the topic of school shootings isn't a pleasant one, Rhiannon Navin does an amazing job with this difficult subject (DeAnn A). 

Nevertheless, they found it to be a compelling story:
It is a sad but thought-provoking read that I found hard to put down (Peggy C).  I read it in two afternoons (Anna R); it was riveting and enlightening. (Maureen R).  I thought the story was well-executed and suspenseful but still "literary fiction" (Rebecca K). I will remember this story for a long time (Anna R).

A few reviewers voiced minor criticism of the characters:
I had a difficult time empathizing with Zach's mom Melissa, who is one of the main characters. I understand that every person deals with grief differently, but I could not agree with some of her decisions and even thought some of the choices she made were cruel to others (Rebecca K).  I would have given it a 5 except that I found Zach painted a bit too mature for his age (Harriette K).

Highly recommended:
The fact that this is a debut novel blows me away! (Jill F). I have already recommended it to others (Terry J)  Book clubs will have hours of discussion topics (Liz B).

Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Marie Claire
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.

E. CE Miller, Bustle "19 Debut Novels Coming Out In 2018 That You Definitely Won't Want To Miss"
A novel with a child-narrator you can't help but love.

Real Simple Five Books That Won’t Disappoint
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.

USA Today, Emily Gray Tedrowe
Only Child earns its worth by avoiding gratuitous scenes of horror in favor of a careful examination of the way one boy and his parents, and their community, struggle to survive — and stay together — after the worst has happened.

Publishers Weekly
Those who can handle the difficult subject matter will find the plot to be a page-turner; Navin also excels in brilliantly capturing Zach's perspective.

A powerful exercise in empathy and perspective.

Author Blurb Harlan Coben
Congrats to Rhiannon Navin - this is an outstanding debut.

Author Blurb Gina Mei,
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.

Write your own review

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by CynthiaD
Not for my book club
I read Only Child because it was suggested for a book club discussion. It is so sad. Adult reactions are too selfish to imagine. Forced myself to finish reading it.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dennis Montero
Through the eyes of a child
Carl Rogers,the humanitarian psychologist, would have smiled approvingly at the therapeutic process as Zach evolves from confusion to self discovery. People of all ages can benefit from the insights the author reveals through the eyes of a child.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Carole
Only Child
Only Child is amazing! Once I started reading it I was unable to put it down. The writing flows and the characters are well-developed .It is intense, heartbreaking and uplifting. While it starts with a school shooting, that is not what it is about. There is so much more to this story. If you read one new book this year, make it this one. And really I rate it a 10.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Tracy B. (New Castle, DE)
Every one should read
When I realized the topic of this book I was feeling reluctant about reading this book. Wow was I ever fooled. The impact the school shooting had on every person was vividly captured. I wanted to jump in the book at many different moments; to sooth a person, to shake sense into another so many emotions. Then after the blame game books that the boy was reading changed the way people thought. The boy's constant belief in the " secrets to happiness" helped save the day.

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Lynne B. (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Only Child: A Heartgrabbing, Emotionally Searing Tale
Only Child is a truly heartbreaking and difficult to read story. With news in recent years of school shootings this book brings a tragedy like this very much to life again. Told through the eyes of a 6 year old survivor, we are drawn into the total sadness and disbelief of everyone affected. The emotions and thoughts brought out by the 6 year old Zach take us to the depths of despair and agony for this family. The story seems like nothing but depression for most of the reading but ends on a hopeful note thankfully.

This was an emotionally exhausting read and reminded me much of Room with a young narrator trying to make sense of his situation based on limited experience. However, this young narrator finally discovers the key to reuniting his family and finding a way to move forward. Anyone experiencing deep grief will relate to this story but may find it difficult to handle emotionally.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by lani
A unique voice, unfortunately timely
Can my eyes produce any more tears for this heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting story of a family consumed by a school shooting? Wise beyond his 6 year old self, Zach narrates this story in a voice so authentic, I could feel his pain as his world is torn asunder from the death of his 9 and a half year old older brother.While his mother strikes out with anger at the world and the family of the killer, she dissociates her self from her family and husband. Her husband has a secret of his own and buries himself in his work while trying to be supportive of Zach at the same time. And there is Zach..the hurting child caught in the middle...trying to make sense of something which doesn't make any sense. Through the books he reads, he tries to find the secrets of happiness and with it bring his family together and teach them the true meaning of compassion. There have been many books about school shootings lately much to my chagrin, but Zach is a special character whose voice has a lot to teach us all. Highly highly recommend.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Kathryn S. (St. Helena Island, SC)
Only Child
This is a very timely book, as it deals with the emotional effects of all-too-often occurring phenomena in our country today - mass shootings in our schools. It is told in the words of a six-year old whose community is experiencing the aftermath of such an event. The family of one of the victims, a 10-year old boy and the family of the shooter both struggle to come to terms with the horrors of the situation and deal with the pressures of the media. I am going to recommend this to my book club as soon as it comes out!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Wendy F. (Kalamazoo, MI)
Only Child
Only Child is the story of an all-too-common event - a school shooting - as told from the perspective of a six-year-old student. Zach brings us through the moment that the shooter enters the school on through the mixture of emotions that a young child goes through when suffering such a tragedy. He tells us his struggles as well as those of the adults around him. His perceptions are keen, difficult but necessary to read. It makes me more aware that I need to be more cautious with my words around the very young. Gun violence has become the norm in our society. Reading this makes me more determined to continue working to stop the gun culture we have here in the US.


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School Shootings & Conspiracy Theorists

Rhiannon Navin's novel Only Child is in part inspired by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that took place on 14 December 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  On that date, 20-year-old Adam Lanza murdered his mother at their home and then drove to the school, fatally shooting 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adult staff using a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle (aka AR-15).

Astonishingly, some conspiracy theorists believe the absurd claim that the shootings never happened.  They propose that the whole thing was staged using child actors by the then-Democrat-controlled federal government as a way to convince people that stricter gun laws were needed – maybe even to sponsor a repeal of the 2nd Amendment.  Social media has enabled these "hoaxers" to widely spread their disinformation and influence others to take action against those they maintain are lying to the American people – which tragically includes the parents and survivors of Sandy Hook, many of whom have been the targets of non-stop harassment since the shootings.

A quick Internet search brings up many sites and individuals who continue promoting the idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax. In 2015, James Fetzer, an emeritus professor at the University of Minnesota, published a book called Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.  A 30-minute video was also available on YouTube entitled The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed which examined supposed inconsistencies in the police reports that it insisted were evidence of a conspiracy.  Snopes, long known as a reliable, non-partisan fact-checking organization, has fully debunked the video and other conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting, and YouTube pulled the video for violating its policies; nevertheless, there are people out there that still believe it never happened.    

The current leading conspiracy theorist is Alex Jones, the host of Infowars, a web site/blog devoted to exposing events which he declares are hoaxes, such as Sandy Hook.  He also has a syndicated alt-right radio show out of Austin, TX that bears his name.  As recently as 2017 Jones was in the national news with his theories, appearing in a controversial Megyn Kelly interview and garnering the support of Donald Trump, who appeared on Infowars via live web chat from Trump Tower when he was running for election. Jones often brags that Trump called him after he was elected to personally thank him for his support and that he regularly speaks with the president "about freedom and our common goal to destroy our enemies." The president hasn't confirmed or denied Jones' boast.

Lenny Ponzer, the father of Noah Ponzer, the youngest child murdered at Sandy Hook, is waging his own battle against those who won't recognize his son's death. A former conspiracy-theorist himself, he was shocked to find that so many didn't believe that his six-year-old son had truly died – or had even existed in the first place.  He believes that "some are drawn to the hoax narrative because they cannot deal with the fact that small, innocent children were slaughtered at a school. That would entail having to accept the reality that this could happen to their family. It's much more comfortable to believe that women and children did not die and that the government they love to loathe is coming for their guns."

He particularly takes issue with people such as Jones, who make a profit out of fearmongering and stoking hate.  He's decided that "the right response is not to ignore, but confront people whose only motivation is to make a profit out of others' paranoia."  He's started an organization called HONR which takes legal action against those who harass Sandy Hook survivors and families.

School shootings by decadeTotal school shootings: In the five and a bit years since the "never again" events at Sandy Hook School there have been at least 239 shootings in US schools resulting in over 400 people shot, of which 138 are dead. This includes the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.*

School shooting incidents with multiple victims: No other country comes close to the USA. In the first decade of the 21st century, you have to add up the combined totals for 36 countries with a population of almost 4 billion (more than 10 times the population of the USA) to match the number of school shooting incidents with multiple victims.

Mass shootings in the USA: Since 2013, America has endured over 1,600 mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter). That's close to one a day.

Total gun deaths in the USA: In a typical year in the USA there are well over 10,000 gun homicides. A further 20,000 people commit suicide with a firearm. For every person killed with a gun, two more are injured.

Guns and mental illness: Research in the USA indicates that only 3%-5% of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most do not involve guns.

Teen survivors of the Parkland massacre are organizing a march on Washington to demand action on gun control. The March for Our Lives will take place on March 24, 2018, with local student organized marches planned across the country. The conspiracy theorists have already started their attacks.

*Observant readers may notice a small discrepancy between the stats shown in the text regarding total school shootings compared to the graph, which is due to the data originating from different independent sources. As a result of the 1996 Dickey Amendment the Centers for Disease Control is effectively forbidden from researching gun related deaths, thus it is left to non-government groups to track statistics as best they can. The most recent data available from the CDC is for 2013 and is limited to the broadest brushstrokes.

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