The Good Children

The Good Children

5.0 2
by Kate Wilhelm

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When they move to a new home in Oregon, the McNair family know they're where they belong. But when tragedy strikes the family, the children face the prospect of being separated by the state. Rather than being sent to different foster homes, the four children decide to lie. And it's a big lie. The sort of deceit that can hold a family together or tear it apart . . . See more details below


When they move to a new home in Oregon, the McNair family know they're where they belong. But when tragedy strikes the family, the children face the prospect of being separated by the state. Rather than being sent to different foster homes, the four children decide to lie. And it's a big lie. The sort of deceit that can hold a family together or tear it apart . . .

Editorial Reviews

A wrenching masterpiece about love, loyalty, and lies that will lodge itself in readers' psyches long after they've finished the last, stunning chapter.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Seamless storytelling and believable characters caught in a bizarre, inescapable situation make this latest psychological thriller from three-time Nebula Award winner Wilhelm (Malice Prepense) taut and satisfying. "When you've got family, you don't need anything else," Lee McNair tells her children. After an industrial accident kills her husband, the distraught McNair makes the four children promise they'll never let strangers touch her when she dies. The children find themselves called on to honor that promise when McNair is killed in a freakish backyard accident. Afraid of disobeying their mother and equally afraid that they'll be sent away to foster homes, the children bury her in the backyard and are forced to lie to neighbors and pretend that she is still alive. Their attempts to keep up the ruse are eerily successfulexcept that the youngest of the children begins to lose his sanity. Eventually, the McNairs call the authorities to report their mother's sudden disappearance. The youngest child's troubles deepen and a new piece of information about their mother's accident threatens to break up their carefully unified front. A young society lawyer, charged with looking in on the "abandoned" McNair children, creates another kind of complication when he falls in love with the engaging teenage narrator (and third McNair), Liz. Wilhelm's spare, unsentimental style contributes nicely to the mood of this well-told gothic tale. (Mar.)
VOYA - Serena Leigh
Every teenager knows that the family described in this book's opening is too perfect to be true--or to last. When their father takes a job in Portland, Oregon, Kevin, Amy, Liz, and Brian anticipate a long-term stay in a place where they can create social lives as happy as their family life. Dashed hopes are the stuff of teen reality, however, and the father's death takes this to the extreme. When their mother, Lee, falls into depression, the resourceful kids take over. Such is their resolve to be "normal" and remain together that when Lee dies in a seeming suicide, the older children scheme to make it appear their mother is still alive. Liz is eleven at the story's start and in college when it ends. She is both a participant in and an observer of her siblings' schemes to keep up the facade as they struggle to develop individual skills and social interests. Liz narrates Kevin's, Amy's, and her own passage into adulthood in a dispassionate tone that suggests the lies hold overarching significance for her. She also has the added challenge of watching Brian hold to the conviction that his dead mother is still in the house, watching over him. Providing more moments of suspense than of psychological or linguistic complexity, this adult novel is more suited for YAs. The success of the story lies in the different questions Wilhelm encourages readers to ask: not "will they be found out?" (no; these kids are cunning and thus likeable) but "was Mother's death a suicide or accidental murder?" and "is Brian hallucinating or are the ghosts real?" Liz's is a typical teenage reality--one marked with elements of fantasy and potential horror. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects, Broad general YA appeal, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
The McNairs' move into a home of their own near Portland, Oregon, seems too good to be true. All the kids have rooms of their own and the promise from their father of no more transfers. But their idyll is soon shattered; father Will is killed in an industrial accident. Though left relatively financially secure, the family is not the same. Mother Lee can't cope and becomes increasingly reclusive. The four kids must manage the house, their mother, and themselves. Then, one day, they come home to find her dead on the patio. Fearful of being separated, the kids construct a complex scheme to keep their home intact. They strive for "invisibility" to the societal systems that might try to separate them. One lie begets another until their deceptions threaten their sanity and their very lives. This is a superb story of death, love, and deception. Wilhelm (Malice Perpense, LJ 6/15/96) is a master of psychological fiction. Her characters are sensitively and believably crafted and her plots are taut, compelling, and insightful. Essential for all popular fiction collections.Susan Clifford, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, Cal.
School Library Journal
YA-The McNairs are a happy normal family newly settled in a big old suburban house. That the mother stresses family solidarity almost to the point of seclusion from the neighborhood is understandable, given the fact that she was abandoned as an infant and spent her childhood in a series of unsuccessful foster homes. At 15, she set out on her own, meeting and marrying Warden McNair, twice her age and surprisingly a perfect husband and father. Their 11-year-old second daughter tells of the family's promising settlement in a small town in Oregon and the sudden death of her father. Stunned by the mechanics of funeral ceremony, his wife extracts a pledge from the children: "Promise you won't let them paint me and put me in a box and let strangers come and stare at won't let a preacher say lies about me." This promise quickly leads to a life of deception and avoidance from all four of the young McNairs as a few months later their mother, too, dies suddenly. The children believe themselves vulnerable to separation and institutionalization and decide to conceal her death. They begin an existence of self-reliance only possible through the financial support left by their father and their late mother's own cleverness. The eventual growth into maturity of the older children and the eerie behavior of the younger boy bring a realistic and satisfying conclusion to an absorbing story.-Frances Reiher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
A Guran
Kate Wilhelm is another writer of contemporary fiction who can't quite be contained by labels. The author of more than thirty mystery and science fiction novels, Wilhelm is a master of psychological fiction. But her psychology is usually dark and provides an eerie, evocative atmosphere. Her latest novel The Good Children is neither mystery nor SF and it's certainly spooky enough to be called horror.

For parents, worry comes with the territory --at one time or another, most contemplate what would happen if their children were left alone in the world. Wilhelm takes this "what if?" and conjectures a chilling, but somehow consoling fable.

After a life of moving about following their father's career, the McNairs have settled in an old house in Oregon. They are a perfect family, finally living in a perfect house after never being in one place long enough to reach outside the family for anything. The mother, an orphan toughened by the streets, believes a family must stay together, no matter what. When the father dies suddenly, the mother is inconsolable and becomes even more isolated from the world beyond her family. Soon after, the four children, ages 15, 14, 11, and 6 find their mother dead under an apple tree. Fearing separation, they decide to keep her death a secret, and bury her in the garden.

The children manage to meet the practical challenges of daily life as well as the emotional hurdles of adolescence. But the youngest, Brian, insists his mother has never left.

Almost three years pass, and the older children grope toward adulthood while Brian turns ever inward. As the eldest prepares to enter college, they finally stage a "disappearance" for their long-dead mother, but for Brian his mother never left the first time, let alone the second.

Writing from the viewpoint of Amy, the next-to-youngest, Wilhelm conveys the notion that the dead can control the living with a remarkable gentleness and understanding. Although the "haunting" at the core of the novel is rooted in psychology, one feels that science is sometimes just a newer explanation for the supernatural. Wilhelm's The Good Children is a lyrically written, effectively chilling story that again proves her mastery as a storyteller.

Kirkus Reviews
Four siblings are thrown on their own considerable resources when they're unexpectedly orphaned in this spooky, consolatory fable from veteran tale-spinner Wilhelm (Malice Prepense, 1996, etc.). All their young lives, the McNair children have followed their father Warden, a structural engineer, from one exotic posting to another. But when Kevin, the oldest, threatens to run away if the family doesn't settle down, his parents buy a century-old house outside Portland, Ore., and prepare to put down roots. The roots may be deep, but they're not going to be wide, since Lee McNair, a former street kid who was rescued when Warden stayed in the hotel room she was cleaning, doesn't trust outsiders and all but chases the neighbors off with a broom. When Warden's killed at work, Lee is inconsolable in more ways than one, and her children, who've never made any friends in school, are left alone in their grief. Their isolation, though, is only a prelude to the ordeal that follows their discovery of Lee's body in the mud under their apple tree. Fearing that they'll be farmed out to separate foster homes if they report their mother's death to the authorities, the children contrive to keep it a secret, burying her in the garden, fending off the neighbors' few inquiries about Lee, and plotting their own futures. Truculent Kevin, 15, falls in love with computers; straight-A Amy, 14, is a budding marine biologist; awkward Liz, 11, takes up the violin and storytelling; and Brian, 6, remains haunted by the mother he insists has never left—and who he insists doesn't want him to leave either. Years pass, and the children, guided toward adulthood by Wilhelm's uncommon delicacy about theiradolescent hopes and fears, all make plans to follow their stars—except for Brian, whose deepening silence brings about the catastrophe that finally lays his unquiet mother to rest. Sensitive, moving, and gently haunting story about the two younger McNairs and their special kinship.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.43(w) x 9.64(h) x 0.94(d)

What People are saying about this

Kate Wilhelm
Four children in Oregon hide their mother's death for fear of being sent to foster homes. Eventually, overwhelming guilt begins to tear at the children's sanity, turning the once-inseparable family members against each other. (Kate Wilhelm, Author of Malice Prepense)

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