I've read other books by Tayari Jones - notably An AMerican Marriage (which I loved) and when I saw this I jumped because I like her as an author and this book is about the Atlanta Child Murders. It combined one of my favorite authors and a favorite topic - true crime - in a way that wasn't overwhelming in a way that some True Crime Podcasts are.
When the book starts, it's the summer of 1979. It's been raining all summer and all of the children are upset because literally their whole summer break from school has been ruined by the weather. The weather is on the front of everyone's mind - not the young black boys that have gone missing at around the same time. Four boys are missing and found dead before anyone even thinks to connect them. There ends up being a total of 29 murders. An arrest is eventually made and the murders stop but Wayne Williams, the guy that seems to be blamed for these murders, never admitted to them or is convicted of them - he's convicted of killing two adults - so many believe the Atlanta Child Murderer is still at large, albeit dormant. This is the setting of this novel.
We meet three children at one school, all in the same grade. Tasha Baxter is sweet natured and tries to be smart, and she wants to fit in at school - and not be excluded by her peers. SHe spends the summer, for instance, practicing rope skipping only to find out that the popular girls think it's too childish. She eventually shows interest in an older boy named Jashante, from the projects, who is in her grade because he's been held back. Because she is worried about becoming a social pariah if she shows interest, she tells Jashanate she hopes he gets asphyxiated. Jashante then disappears and Tasha is left wondering about her words and their power.
Rodney Green is a really intelligent and painfully shy boy who tries to keep himself as invisible as possible at school and at home (having an abusive parent will do that). Rodney's father even comes to school one day and whips him in front of the whole class as a form of discipline. Shamed, Rodney walks away from home and is asked into a car by a man with a (fake) police badge.
Octavia Harrison is another social misfit at the school - she's called "Watusi" because of how dark her skin is - but she's remarkably resilient and self confident. Octavia is close with Rodney - they sit near each other in class becuase of their names - and she lives across the street from the projects with her mother, Yvoinne. Her father lives in South Carolina. WHen the murders start hitting really close to home, her father calls and asks that she be sent to him to live in South Carolina.
I loved this book. THe narratives are told from the first person perspectives of the children, who are watching the news, and their parents' reactions, to the murders and learning about people that they know being taken. This was amazing simple and yet so effective. I learned that Tayari Jones was a fifth grader in Atlanta during this time period, so she actually lived through the incidents in question and was able to put this experience to a very good and effective use. It is a quiet, real time and devastating contemplation of serial killers, terror and the setting of such brutal acts. I truly loved this short book so much and I'm glad that I purchased it for my library.