Livesey’s latest novel, just published, opens when three teenage siblings–Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang–see an injured boy in a field and call for help. A simple beginning. But for these three close-knit teens, who have lived a relatively uneventful suburban life, the event is a marker that rocks their sense of right and wrong and sends them off in different directions.
When the police are unable to find the man who beat Karel and left him in the field, Matthew Lang, the eldest, searches for the culprit on his own; he needs the certainty of answers. He allies himself with Karel’s older brother, Tomas, a dodgy character. For Zoe, the middle sibling, 16 years old, the incident is a turning point. It brings her into contact with inexplicable evil, the world expands and deepens, and she makes some sexual choices, for better or for worse.
It’s different for Duncan, the youngest, at 14. Duncan is adopted–his mother was a young Turkish woman–and Duncan looks different from the rest of the family. There’s no doubt that he’s well-loved, but he’s an outsider. It’s not just his looks, but his talent as an artist and an empath that sets him apart from everyone else. Duncan is preternaturally sensitive; his heightened awareness of color and form extends to emotions. He’s often able to read situations that escape the others. In the aftermath of the incident, he begins to dream of his biological mother, his “first mother.” He adopts a dog, Lily, who senses moods and emanates answers to unspoken questions.
Each of the children makes contact with Karel; they have unanswered questions that they hope the enigmatic boy in the field can answer. Karel becomes a touchstone for their changing feelings but he can’t give them any help.
I hope I haven’t given away too much. There’s not much more plot; it’s a coming of age story for the three Lang siblings so it’s all about character. The novel reminded me of Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Penelope Lively’s How it All Began, both books that cast a spell over the reader. They’re all hard to forget.