The Kingdom of Childhood is the story of a boy and a woman: sixteen-year-old Zach Patterson, uprooted and struggling to reconcile his knowledge of his mother's extramarital affair, and Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher watching her family unravel before her eyes.Read more...
The Kingdom of Childhood is the story of a boy and a woman: sixteen-year-old Zach Patterson, uprooted and struggling to reconcile his knowledge of his mother's extramarital affair, and Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher watching her family unravel before her eyes. Thrown together to organize a fundraiser for their failing private school and bonded by loneliness, they begin an affair that at first thrills, then corrupts each of them. Judy sees in Zach the elements of a young man she loved as a child, but what Zach does not realize is that their relationship is -- for Judy -- only the latest in a lifetime of disturbing secrets.
Rebecca Coleman's manuscript for The Kingdom of Childhood was a semifinalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. An emotionally tense, increasingly chilling work of fiction set in the controversial Waldorf school community, it is equal parts enchanting and unsettling and is sure to be a much-discussed and much-debated novel.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-04-18
- Reviewer: Staff
Coleman (Desperado City) creates a stark psychological drama in this charged story of a sexual relationship between a teacher and an underage student. Suburban Maryland 40-something Judy McFarland is married to "a cranky old asshole," dotes on her high school senior son, and teaches kindergarten at the humanistic-oriented Sylvania Waldorf School, where she supervises 16-year-old Zach Patterson as he fulfills his service hours requirement at the school's woodworking shop. Soon Judy embarks on a tryst with the compliant Zach, and as thoughts of the potential legal consequences of their clandestine relationship weigh on her, Judy comes unhinged and her sexual predations grow more pathetic, even brutish. Meanwhile, flashbacks fill in Judy's childhood spent in Germany, where early traumas—unwell mother, philandering father—took root, though it's unclear whether these are intended to justify or illuminate. As Judy's life barrels toward a dark end, it becomes a chore for the reader to remain sympathetic to her increasingly drastic plight. It's dark, fast-moving, and, for the most part, nicely creepy with a solid noirish vibe, though Judy's transition from a Mrs. Robinson figure to something much more maniacal is a bit of a stretch. (Oct.)
The darker side of desire
From Notes on a Scandal to the real-life antics of Mary Kay Letourneau, relationships between teachers and students hold perennial intrigue in our culture. Set in Maryland at the time of the Lewinsky scandal, Rebecca Coleman’s psychologically disturbing novel, The Kingdom of Childhood, explores the dark, illicit side of desire.
Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher at the progressive and alternative Waldorf School, feels broken and displaced—she is haunted by the untimely death of her best friend and stuck in an unhappy, angry marriage with Russ, a Ph.D. candidate. Judy is asked to supervise 16-year-old Zach, a lonely transplant from New Hampshire, as he fulfills his service hours. Drawn together by mutual feelings of betrayal by their parents (in addition to untethered lust) the two quickly enter into an affair. Over time, Zach begins to retreat from increasingly obsessive, insatiable Judy, whose sexual proclivities grow unapologetically unsettling and unseemly. The novel barrels toward a suspenseful end as they both face the inevitable consequences of choices made.
The Kingdom of Childhood raises messy and controversial questions, making it a natural pick for book clubs. Coleman does not demand sympathy for her main character, and in fact, Judy’s break from reality and obscured moral barometer stokes the tension even further. Though at her strongest when revisiting Judy’s childhood in Germany, overall Coleman writes with a flair for capturing the underbelly of the human psyche and the all-consuming nature of desire.