Publication Date: 24th June 2021
Child narrators have always been a little bit tricky for me. But I when I read that the eight year old girl at the centre of The First Day Of Spring by Nancy Tucker had killed a two year old boy I knew I had to give this book a whirl! And with a first line of ‘I killed a little boy today. Held my hands around his throat, felt his blood pump hard against my thumbs’….I knew this book would be somewhat of a jaw dropper…..IT WAS.
The story starts with eight year old Chrissie Banks giving the reader her murderous bombshell confession in the most calm and contained of ways. We know from the outset that little Chrissie has indeed murdered two year old Steven and left his body in the ‘blue house’ in the alleys.
The close knit community of families are shaken to the core at the grim discovery and mothers are extra vigilant over the safety of their little ones. They are appalled that something so terrible could happen in their neighbourhood and are determined to keep their own children safe and find out who could have perpetrated this heinous act upon an innocent boy.
Chrissie meanwhile is wandering the neighbourhood with her dark secret ‘fizzing like sherbet’ in her belly. She is giddy with the power she felt whilst she choked the life out of little Steven.
Chrissie doesn’t hold any power at home. In fact, Chrissie has a very sad and lonely life at home. Her father is absent ‘at her majesty’s pleasure’ most of the time, flitting in and out of Chrissie’s life as and when he pleases. Chrissie’s mum quite clearly has mental health issues and often isn’t even aware where Chrissie is. The child is neglected and has a constant gnawing hunger.
Despite the terrible neglect, Chrissie still champions her mother and sees the positive in the smallest of concessions, like her mother leaving the kitchen window ajar so she can climb back through at night.
With her friends and other adults Chrissie is somewhat of a force to be reckoned with. She stands for no nonsense and can quite easily handle herself. She thinks nothing of a swift kick to the shins or shoving someone over. The other children are very wary of her bolshy ways and have to keep their wits about them. They are well aware that she has a vicious and mean streak which frightens the majority of them.
The adults in the neighbourhood see a pest, a nuisance and a trouble causer and not the lonely and forgotten little girl who is forced to grow up far too quickly.
The story then flits forward some 20 years later and we follow Chrissie, now given a new identity as Julia, and her young daughter Molly. Julia is working at a fish and chip shop and trying to keep her daughter safe but in only the most physical of ways and struggles to connect with her emotionally. Due to her past and the terrible crime she committed, Julia is well aware of how easily children can come to harm if you are not watching them carefully.
She treats her life with Molly as being very regimented. Their schedule is timed down to the minute in order to fill their days and not allow Julia a moment to stop and think or have to bond emotionally with her daughter. A daughter who she feels she doesn’t deserve.
But when the phone rings, and keeps on ringing, Julia is forced to confront her dark past in order to have a hope of salvaging her future.
Well, this book from start to finish was so compelling. The narrative voice of young Chrissie is so immature yet insightful. To see the adult world through an eight year old’s eyes and experience what it is like to be inside her head is at times hard to handle. She lives such a terrible life at home and on the one hand, of course you feel sad for her but then you are hit over the head by the horrifying fact that she is a murderer.
Chrissie revels in her secret and yearns to feel the fizzy sensation of power again. She only feels momentary jolts of remorse, not enough to make her feel truly sorry for her actions. This is in direct opposition to how she feels as an adult looking back on her crimes.
It’s interesting to revisit the relationship she had with her troubled mother and feckless father. Seeing her mother through little Chrissie’s eyes then seeing how the relationship has changed over the years of Chrissie’s incarceration and beyond.
I think the most notable element for me was witnessing a truly shocking event through the eyes of such a young child. It goes against everything we expect and is made extra shocking by the fact that the naivety and childishness of the perpetrator is jarring with the act itself.
‘I was sitting next to Donna who I didn’t like because she was a goody-goody and she was also fat. I counted the dimples in her puddingy knees while Mr Michaels talked, and I wanted to put my finger inside one, just to see how it would feel, but she shoved my hand away when I tried.
I cupped my hands around my mouth and pressed them against her ear. ‘I was there,’ I whispered. ‘When they found him I was there.’
‘Get off,’ she whispered.
She flicked her head round to look at me. Our mouths were very close together, close enough that I could have kissed her, except obviously I was never ever going to do that because she was a fat goody-goody. Her breath smelt of jam.
‘What did he look like?’ She whispered
‘There was loads of blood everywhere,’ I whispered. ‘It was spraying out all over everywhere. Some of it even got on me’……
This is a book that I think will pull people in opposite directions. I battled with my conflicting feelings whilst reading it and I just know that for some people it won’t be palatable. I however LOVED it!
Chrissie has a shocking and compelling story that has to be told no matter how hard it is to hear and I will never ever forget her narrative voice.
Please give this book a try! I am certain it will be on my books of the year list.
Thank you to the publisher for my proof copy.
See you soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx