Sunday, October 23, 2011

(Blog Tour) The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman (Review+Interview)

Genre:Adult, Contemporary
Publication.Date  October 4th 2011
Published By:  Mira
WebsiteRebecca Coleman
The Kingdom of Childhood - Goodreads
My review copy:Review copy from Media Muscle
Where to get: Book Depository | Amazon | B&N

     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.

     The Kingdom of Childhood is a powerful, deeply disturbing, dark and disquieting read. Rebecca Coleman skillfully tackled an unbelievably hard topic, one that not many dare talk about, not to mention write a book about it - I'm talking about sexual relationship between an adult and a minor. And the way she did it is simply WOW. It gets to you. Crawls deep under your skin. Chills and disgusts you. But at the same time it captivates you in the most sickening way and you literally can't bring yourself to put this book down. At least that's what happened to me. This book is an outstanding addition to literature as a whole. A wonderfully original novel, full of images and thoughts so arresting, so vivid and compelling, that you'll literally live through the whole story together with its protagonists, feeling their uncontrollable lust and shattering heartaches.

     Ever heard of a Waldorf education system? Well, neither did I, not I until I picked up this novel at least. According to Wikipedia Waldorf education is "a humanistic approach to pedagogy based upon the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy." It's an anti-consumerist and very liberal schooling model, that focuses not only on the child attending the school, but the whole family as a unit. Once a child starts her/his education at a Waldorf school, pretty much the whole family becomes integrated into the system.

      Judy McFarland, our lead female protagonist, is a kindergarten teacher at a Waldorf school. She's an attractive woman in her 40s, whose life has been in a downward spiral recently. Her best friend have passed away. Her daughter started rebelling against the Waldorf principals, accusing Judy of leading a God-less, uninspired and meaningless life. On top of everything else, her marriage seems to be on the verge of falling apart. Her husband, a drug-addict and insensitive egoist, no longer keeps up the pretense that he cares about his wife. He's focused entirely on his career, his doctorate dissertation taking up all his time and energy. Judy feels lost, abandoned and lonely.

        And that's when Zach comes in. At the age of 16, Zach Patterson seem to have plenty of problems of his own. He's struggling to understand why his mother cheated on his father with one of the students in her yoga class. At the same time he's doing his best to get used to the new environment he's been thrown into when his father got a new job and the whole family had to make a move. And, you know, he's 16-yo, his body is buzzing with hormones, which makes it even harder for him to make sense of it all.

      When the two of them have to work together to organize a fundraiser, something unexpected (and unthinkable) happens. They find themselves attracted to each other in the most dangerous way: sexually.

        I won't tell you what happens next, although I'd really like to talk about it. As a matter of fact, I feel that I could discuss this book for hours (which makes it a great read for book clubs!), but I won't. Because I would rob you of the pleasure of discovering this book on your own. And trust me, you ought to take this trip. You won't regret it.

       From the very first page of this novel I was hooked. Rebecca Coleman tells this shocking and painful story in a truly superb way. The narrative shifts between Zach and Judy, which gives us a really great insight into what's going on in their heads. And then Rebecca takes us back in time to Judy's childhood and we begin to understand how her past experiences influenced the decisions she made as an adult. The novel's construction is pure genius. And I really liked that Rebecca didn't openly take sides nor try to force her opinions on the reader. There's no judgment, no criticism. We get the whole story and what we learn from it, what conclusions we reach, is entirely up to us.

     It might sound like a weird thing to say, considering the heavy topic of this story, but I really liked the characters. They were real.  Their emotions and reactions were real, too. Sure, some of their decisions might seem totally irrational and most of us would never behave in the way they did, but in the end we're all just humans. We make mistakes. We follow our hearts' desires, even if sometimes those desires are absolutely unacceptable. Isn't that the essence of humanity? I admire Rebecca for what she did in this book. I admire her, because not only did she have the guts to write about the heaviest taboo topic imaginable, but she totally aced it. I felt so many emotions while reading this book! I felt sorry for Zach, but I also felt sorry for Judy. I was glad that Rebecca didn't portray her as an evil, seductive b*tch, who deliberately took advantage of a teenage boy. Judy wasn't evil, she was lost. She desperately needed comfort and affection, and sure, she looked for it in all the wrong places, but that is exactly what this novel is about. It's about mistakes, misguided love, heartbreaks and trying to hold on to one's sanity. It's a fantastic piece of literature!

      I loved this novel. I feel that it touched me in ways I did not at all expect. After finishing it I sat in silence for a long time, pondering the plot, the characters, their decisions and the consequences that followed. It's not just a book, it's an EXPERIENCE. I believe that everyone ought to read it at some point.

And now, my beloved readers, it's time for an interview with the fabulous writer! Please give a warm welcome to Rebecca Coleman!

E: Evie
RC: Rebecca Coleman

E: Welcome to Bookish Rebecca! I'm really excited to be able to talk to you today! Your recent novel, The Kingdom of Childhood, had me hooked from the very first page! I literally couldn't bring myself to put it down - what a fabulous read! Could you tell us who or what inspired you to write it?
RC: Thank you! I first had the idea to write it while folding laundry and watching the news-- there was an item about a teacher who'd been arrested for having a sexual relationship with a young male student. I'd seen such stories dozens of times-- we all have-- and as usual, I felt mystified. In kind of a dismissive way, I thought, "why would anybody do that," and then-- because I've been writing fiction for many years-- it crossed my mind that this would make a very good question for a novel. If someone's motives seem incomprehensible to you, it's a good bet that there's an interesting story behind them.
E: Would you mind telling us how long did it take for you to write it?
RC: About two years, maybe two and a half. That's fairly short in novel-writing terms. I'd write whenever I had the inspiration. Now that I have a three-book contract, I need to be a lot more disciplined about it-- I can't just set it down for three months and wait for ideas to come out of the ether.
E: What's the strangest thing you've ever had a character do in a story?
RC: Oh, goodness-- well, a number of years ago I was in an online writing group where everyone seemed to be posting vampire stories. I had a friend there-- he turned out to be the only decent one in the bunch-- who found the whole phenomenon as tedious as I did. And I should mention, I don't object to vampire fiction, just terribly-written vampire fiction. Anyway, just for kicks, he and I each rewrote scenes from our own novels, making our characters vampires instead, and traded them. So I rewrote this love scene into one where the girl reveals that she is a vampire and decides to "turn" her boyfriend. That may be the greatest story I have ever written.
E: Which of your characters would you say is most like you? Are any of your characters based on people in your own life?
RC: None of the characters in The Kingdom of Childhood is based on a real person, although the cat is my best friend's cat-- at least, it has the same name. I don't have to worry about the cat suing me, though. And none of the characters is much like me at all, but the one I identify with the most is Zach. At one point in my life I was a 16-year-old in a relationship with someone much too old for me, so I could give those feelings to that character and amplify them, because it's fiction and Zach's situation is much worse than mine was.
E: How do you approach writing a new book?  Are you a plotter or a pantser?
RC: With The Kingdom of Childhood I had a general idea about the plot, but as I wrote it I kept uncovering more and more layers to the story, and so it was an unfolding process more than a linear one. With my next book I plotted it out in advance, but I've decided that's a frustrating method because it's very hard to predict what will really happen in a book if you don't really know the characters yet. Their motivations are what drives the story, so it's like a guidance counselor plotting out a college-and-career path for a student they've never met. So next time I plan to be more disorganized.
E: What genre do you like to read in your spare time? Which three of your favorite books would you recommend everybody to read?
RC: I mostly read books in the same genre as mine-- commercial fiction with a literary bent. The fact about novels is that every book you love will have some one-star reviews, and every book you hate will have its five-stars, so there's no book I'd recommend to everyone-- but I can tell you which ones *I* love. Most recently I read Jesse Browner's "Everything Happens Today," which is like an updated "The Catcher in the Rye," and that was a beautiful, funny, heartwrenching book that I adored-- I'd barely finished it before I wrote him a gushing fan letter. Before that I read Ann Hite's "Ghost on Black Mountain," which has these wonderful Southern voices to it and made me think of our family trips to the Smoky Mountains-- it's a different world out there. And finally, Keith Donohue's "The Stolen Child"-- it transposes fairy tale themes with our own psychology, similar to my own book. I had recently finished writing mine when I found Keith's, so I felt like I had found a kindred spirit.
E: Do you have any other hobbies that you enjoy?
RC: I've developed a recent fascination with camera-filter apps for my iPhone. Every family vacation photo gets processed within an inch of its life. This past summer I took a picture through my car windshield-- my husband was driving, let me assure you-- of South of the Border, the huge tacky tourist trap in South Carolina. On my dashboard I have this fuzzy stuffed toy that looks like a twisted pink snake, but it's actually a syphilis spirochete, and that shows up in the photo. I processed it through a filter app, and it looks like a beautiful watercolor illustration. Definitely one of a kind.
E: What's next in line for you? Are you working on a new book now?
RC:  I'm finishing up my next book, "Merciless Savages," which is due out next fall. It's about the shock waves that strike a family when their son comes home from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us today! 
It was a great honor for me to read and review your book and I can't thank you enough for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today! 
I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing your next books!

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About the Author
Evie is the Blogger behind Bookish. She enjoys reading many different genres, especially YA, Paranormal, Contemporary Fiction and Fantasy.
She loves talking to authors and is always happy to welcome them for interviews, and guest posts. She also likes spreading the love for awesome books and  chatting with fellow book-worms.
You can find Evie here: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Shelfari | The Library Thing


Kelly said...

Great interview! I'm SO looking forward to read The Kingdom of Childhood, and I'll be on the lookout next year for Merciless Savages.

Enbrethiliel said...


When I was training to be a teacher, I did a lot of research into Waldorf education. I'm intrigued by the hint that the method has a key role to play in this novel.

Jaime Lester said...

Creepy. That is the first word that popped into my head when I read the blurb for this book. Maybe more like "Flippin creepy". I am hopefully starting school in August to be a teacher, and I can't imagine starting an affair with a student. I am incredibly happy in my marriage, but I know what extreme heartbreak and sadness are as well and even at that low point I can't imagine doing something like that. Normally I would say I wouldn't want anything to do with this book, but after your review I think I may have to check it out just to see how the author handles it in such a way that she still gets good reviews, regardless of how hard the subject matter is to swallow. Thanks for your review.

Wanda (GoodChoiceReading) said...

I really enjoyed this story. I'm surprised she wrote this kind of story. Very touchy subject but overall she wrote it and I fell in love with this book. So good.

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