Book #47

The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker

Chrissie is eight and she has a secret: she has just killed a boy. The feeling made her belly fizz like soda pop. Her playmates are tearful and their mothers are terrified, keeping them locked indoors. But Chrissie rules the roost -- she's the best at wall-walking, she knows how to get free candy, and now she has a feeling of power that she never gets at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.

Twenty years later, adult Chrissie is living in hiding under a changed name. A single mother, all she wants is for her daughter to have the childhood she herself was denied. That's why the threatening phone calls are so terrifying. People are looking for them, the past is catching up, and Chrissie fears losing the only thing in this world she cares about, her child.

Tucker engages us immediately here by beginning with Chrissie’s admission of murder; she’s eight years old, and has just killed a little boy. It’s quite unfathomable - most of us would find it impossible to understand why anyone would kill a two year old, and yet that thought becomes all the more disturbing and incomprehensible when we consider the killer to be another child.

Twenty years later, we meet Julia and her daughter Molly. It doesn’t take too long to gather that Julia is, in truth, Chrissie, released from incarceration and living under a new identity. Tucker intersperses Chrissie’s young life with her later life, alternating chapters to allow us to build the picture together.

Oddly enough, I felt no anger at Chrissie, no disgust. I’m aware I should have; I should have been abhorred at a child taking the life of another, at her ability to wreak such tragedy and call down such misery upon the boy’s family, and indeed the entire neighbourhood. I felt none of this, I just felt heartbroken, and it’s entirely down to Tucker’s skillful and careful storytelling.

Using Chrissie’s voice is a masterstroke here. She’s strong willed and confident, believes herself to be the best of all her friends, is never wrong, and is always in charge. Yet her immaturity and naivety is strongly apparent, her values and beliefs are out of sync with the real world, and worst of all she consistently lies to herself in order to dull her own pain. As you read a child’s words as an adult you can see through them entirely, and what you see here is awful, horrible, unfair, and cruel.

I’d never suggest a child who has experienced neglect should be vindicated from the results of their poor decisions, nor would I suggest all children who are neglected have something bad inside of them. There’s something in Tucker’s portrayal of Chrissie’s life which is just so entirely sad, so incredibly devastating, that it’s impossible to hate her as a character. She’s the antagonist of her own life; the only villain setting obstacles in front of her is Chrissie herself.

Wonderfully, we get to see Chrissie (or Julia) grown up and a mother. She is in no way absolved, and she’s drowning in a fog of regret, worry, and grief. And yet there’s some hope in there for her, some solace to be pulled from her (sometimes problematic) thought processes, and we can see some faith in herself begin to take root.

What Tucker has achieved with this novel is truly impressive. It’s such a sore subject, such a taboo. I was annoyed at myself initially, and felt I was sympathising with the devil, but this is a very important story to read, and try to understand yourself by reading.