Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

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Pete seems to be the exact opposite of what people expect from a social worker, both from a physical perspective and most certainly based on his lifestyle choices.

Alcohol, drugs and violent altercations. The relationship between his ex and their daughter is a shambles. His own family is a superb example of lack of communication and a lifetime of recriminations.

Doesn’t exactly seem like the type to solve the problems of children or teens in dire need of help, and yet he does become the single lifeline of many.

Mary seems like such a breath of fresh air in the beginning, perhaps even a chance or a new beginning for Pete. Her childhood and her tragic past creates a void between them.

What must it be like to know that the inevitability of your past  is always chasing you. Always being present and at the forefront of people’s minds, ergo they judge before they have taken the time to get to know her.

Saying that, is someone who has fallen prey to the system of social care and been dropped into the black hole of Forgotten, able to be anything other than their past?

If you have seen, done , or have had every imaginable and unimaginable cruelty done to you, is there a way of ever leaving that behind? When I say behind I mean trying not to let it guide the future, at least not in a negative way.

Curtis is the perfect example of a child on his way into the same type of black hole in the very much overextended social services system. His behaviour is typical of one that has been abused. He is over-sexualized, has a tendency towards unpredictable and violent behaviour. He ends up where Pete knows he will become a lost cause, just another statistic on the path to destruction.

Pete becomes so frustrated at one point that he actually steps into the group of non trustworthy people in the boy’s life. The one person Curtis has accepted as a type of anchor in tumultuous seas starts to look more like a dinghy with a hole.

The irony of the story is of course the fate of Pete’s daughter. Her life becomes a sequence of predictable events, the type of events that follow in the tread of neglectful parents. Pete swings between worry and forgetting her existence, and he completely ignores her plea for help.

So whilst he is fully prepared to go to the ends of the earth for the children of others his own becomes disappears into the system and out of his life altogether. The reader finds themselves with a conundrum. Is Pete a hero or is he the abuser? How can he bend the rules and go to such extensive lengths to save one family and facilitate the destruction of his own?

I do so enjoy the type of story that ends up shining the light on the perfect imperfection of human nature.

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley, courtesy of Random House UK, Cornerstone.

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