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The Kindness of Strangers

The Kindness of Strangers

4.5 69
by Katrina Kittle

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On a quiet street in the suburban Midwest, a popular, seemingly stable family keeps a terrible, dark secret behind closed doors -- a secret that will have life-changing consequences for all who know them

Sarah Laden, a young widow and mother of two, struggles to keep her family together. Since the death of her husband, her high-school-age son, Nate,


On a quiet street in the suburban Midwest, a popular, seemingly stable family keeps a terrible, dark secret behind closed doors -- a secret that will have life-changing consequences for all who know them

Sarah Laden, a young widow and mother of two, struggles to keep her family together. Since the death of her husband, her high-school-age son, Nate, has developed a rebellious streak, constantly falling in and out of trouble. Her kindhearted younger son, Danny, though well behaved, struggles to pass his remedial classes. All the while, Sarah must make ends meet by running a catering business out of her home. But when a shocking and unbelievable revelation rips apart the family of her closest friend, Sarah finds herself welcoming yet another young boy into her already tumultuous life.

Jordan, a quiet and reclusive elementary-school boy and classmate of Danny's, has survived a terrible tragedy, leaving him without a family. When Sarah becomes Jordan's foster mother, a relationship develops that will force her to question the things of which she thought she was so sure. Yet Sarah is not the only one changed by this young boy, and as the delicate balance that holds her family together begins to falter, the Ladens will all face truths about themselves and one another -- and discover the power of love to forgive and to heal.

Powerful and poignant, The Kindness of Strangers is a shocking look at how the tragedy of a single family in a small suburban town can affect so many. Katrina Kittle has created a haunting vision of the secret lives of the people we think we know best. Through gripping and heartrending storytelling, The Kindness of Strangers shows that even after the most grave injuries, redemption is always possible.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Master caterer Sarah Laden is barely holding her life together as a widow with two difficult sons-recalcitrant teen Nate and troubled fifth-grader Danny-when the unthinkable happens. Her best friend and neighbor, Courtney Kendrick, is arrested in a child sex abuse scandal. Courtney's husband has vanished; their 11-year-old son, Jordan, is in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt; and across the street Nate is finding, in Jordan's backpack, evidence of unthinkable abuse. Kittle (Traveling Light; Two Truths and a Lie) crafts a disturbing but compelling story line, as Sarah, Nate and Jordan uncover and come to terms with the horror in alternating chapters. Sarah, for instance, is shocked to learn that she dropped off food for the Kendricks' sex parties; Jordan must decide whether or not he wants to continue a relationship with his mother-who insists she's innocent-if and when she gets acquitted. Kittle's research sits awkwardly in expository dialogue-"One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their eighteenth birthdays," intones the detective who will later become Sarah's love interest-but it doesn't slow the momentum. Though the movement is toward healing, there are bumpy roads ahead for everybody in this melodramatic but gripping read. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this slice of contemporary life, Kittle (Traveling Light) introduces Sarah Laden, the recently widowed mother of two challenging sons. While trying to reassemble their lives following her husband's death, Sarah operates a catering business in Ohio, handling many of the small-town functions. Then, unexpectedly, the family is thrown into the maelstrom surrounding an unspeakable crime against a child. Kittle zeroes in on the Ladens' incremental realization that their relationships with this child represent his best chance of repairing his damaged life. Their unselfishness is at the heart of this most memorable, compelling novel of survival. Kittle's careful character development and depiction of a loving family situation, along with the variety of statistics offered, help make this tale hard to put down. Although it is a grim, disturbing study of abuse, the conversational style and vividly drawn characters render it a moving portrait of how we heal. Recommended for all public libraries.-Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A struggling family responds to the discovery of child sexual abuse very close to home. A middle-class household in small-town USA is transformed into a hellhole as Kittle (Two Truths and a Lie, 2001, etc.) depicts a child in peril. Thanks to the author's exceptionally fluent narrative skill, a novel which at times has the flavor of a public information account of abuse and its aftermath becomes utterly compelling. Jordan is the nerdy, withdrawn, 11-year-old son of glamorous, respected Mark and Courtney Kendrick. One morning, Courtney's best friend Sarah Laden discovers Jordan ill and alone and rushes him to the hospital. Jordan, whose sickness is a suicide-attempt overdose, is discovered to have been not only abused for years but also infected with gonorrhea, for which Courtney, a doctor, has been treating him with stolen drugs. A search of Jordan's home uncovers masses of evidence incriminating Mark but nothing directly implicating Courtney, whom recently widowed Sarah now struggles to recast as a monster. Jordan's own heartbreaking story encompasses fear, fury and loyalty; a sympathetic police officer, doubling as Sarah's love interest, offers useful background information. There are no surprises and a little too much sweet resolution, but Kittle unfurls her tale with absolute devotion.
“A moving novel.... Kittle’s clear prose gives a luminous quality to her story of thriving against the odds.”
People Magazine
"A moving novel.... Kittle’s clear prose gives a luminous quality to her story of thriving against the odds."

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The Kindness of Strangers

A Novel
By Katrina Kittle

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Katrina Kittle
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060564741

Chapter One


Whenever Sarah thought back to that morning twelve years ago, she remembered the chick.

She cracked open an egg, but instead of a yolk, a bloody chick embryo fell into the bowl. She stared at its alien eyes and gaping mouth, and the hair rose on her arms and neck. The maimed chick felt important somehow, a sign of how bleak and bad things had become. Sarah sensed that this was an omen, but she couldn't imagine for what or how to prepare herself.

The chick -- in addition to giving Sarah second thoughts about buying free-range eggs at the local farmers' market -- made her remember the robin's nest she'd found the day before in the apple tree. There had been four eggs, pale and delicate, like the sugar-dough decorations on the wedding cakes she was known for.

Sarah looked at the chick in the bowl and wanted to make sure the robin eggs were all right. She knew that this need was irrational -- her sons were expecting breakfast, it was typical springtime in Ohio with the rain running in sheets down the window, and the robin certainly didn't require her assistance. Sarah knew she had more pressing things to focus on -- she had to cater Thai red seafood curry for twelve today, she needed to start production on a wedding cake, and she was supposed to be developing recipes for a "salads as whole meals" spread for Food & Wine, whose deadline was rapidly approaching. Sarah mentally inventoried these obligations, but she slipped out the back door anyway. She jogged across the sodden ground and stepped onto the bench under the tree. At the sight of Sarah's gigantic head, the mother robin shrieked and fluttered to a higher branch. Sarah peered down at the nest, dry and cozy even in this downpour, and the eggs that, to her relief, still sat there like jewels. Four perfect eggs. Nothing but promise and potential ahead of them.

She'd once felt that way about her own family.

The eggs and that contorted chick reminded Sarah of the sappy assignment she'd been given in her grief support group two years ago, back when Roy, her husband, died. The counselor had told her to find three things each morning for which she felt grateful. The counselor told her not to count her two children -- they were "givens."

The robin screeched at her in urgent, one-note cries, and Sarah tried to think of something that inspired gratitude. Weariness and regret weighed her down, but she stubbornly shoved them away. She could do it, damn it; she could come up with three blessings. She scanned the yard, appraising it, as if it were a property she'd never seen. She looked at the old sandbox the boys used to play in and at her garden, its recently tilled earth as dark as Black Forest cake. One of these days, if the rain ever stopped, she would plant.

The mother robin hopped to a lower branch and continued the staccato warnings. Sarah felt bad prolonging the bird's worry, so she stepped down from the bench. As she did, she reached for a branch, for balance, and in a flash the robin dove at her. Sarah jerked her hand away, but not before she felt the stab of beak and the surge of adrenaline at the attack. The robin flew one more swipe at Sarah before settling defiantly back onto her nest. Sarah examined the wound. A drop of blood welled on the back of her hand but washed away in the rain. More blood rose from the tiny puncture when she clenched her fist. The entire hand throbbed, and the slight pain felt almost good. This was pain from outside, not from within. And not only did her hand ache, but she shivered, aware of how wet and cold she was, skin tight with goose bumps, nipples erect. She felt something. She was alive.

There. That was a blessing. She looked up at the tree, wanting to thank the bird for this sensation. This apple tree belonged to her younger son, Danny, who was eleven. Roy and Sarah had planted trees for both sons, in the ancient tradition that the branches from the trees would later be used for the chuppahs at their weddings. Danny used to be as sweet and cheerful as the tree's early-April bloom, but a crab apple tree might have suited him better lately. He'd changed. They'd all changed. And Sarah didn't know how to stop it, how to go back to the family they'd been before.

Sarah walked across the yard, through the rain, to Nate's dogwood tree and touched the trunk. This tree was planted nearly seventeen years ago. Now it stood taller than Nate.

Thank God, Nate's suspension from school was over -- that would be the second blessing of the day. He'd already been suspended twice this year for truancy; once more and he'd be expelled. Actually, this was the second for which he'd been caught. She knew he'd skipped more than that, because she'd seen him in the middle of a school day. Once, visiting Roy's grave at Temple Israel cemetery, she'd been outraged to see someone sitting on Roy's stone, smoking, but when she recognized Nate, she'd slunk away before he saw her. She'd never told him she'd seen him there, never scolded him for cutting class. And from the cigarette butts that accumulated at the grave, she knew he went frequently. She never mentioned the butts, for fear he'd cover his tracks, and she took comfort in knowing some small thing about his life. Plus, her approval of the visits might make him stop. Everything she said to Nate these days seemed only to insult and anger him. That's why she was making his favorite burritos this morning. She hoped they could be a peace offering.

The back door opened, and Nate stood at the screen. "What are you doing? You've been standing out there forever."


Excerpted from The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle Copyright © 2006 by Katrina Kittle. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Katrina Kittle is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, and The Kindness of Strangers, which received the Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. She lives in Dayton, Ohio.

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Kindness of Strangers 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 70 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't know about anyone else but, I thought the sexual descriptions were too graphic. Did she have to say a childs mouth was bleeding during a sexual act? How YOUNG kids faces were red from crying during sex? It made me feel incredibly uneasy. Like the fed was going to come get me. Maybe that's what she was going for? I think the same feeling could have been done without being so child pornographic. Most people think this book is good so if you get it just be prepared for the sexual scenes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I LOVED this book!! In fact, I have passed it onto my mom!! I know that she will enjoy it as much as I did!! I would recommend it highly!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The title of the book is so perfect for the story. This book will make you see that things could always be worse. I loved the way she developed the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book ! OMG!! Ten stars! Kept me breathless. I read with tears in my eyes and a rock in my stomach. The characters are so real you not only read their thoughts, you feel their pain. Such betrayal. The reveiwers who were 'disturbed' by the graphic child sexual abuse? Well, child sexual abuse is ugly. It 's offensive and evil. This book doesn't exploit this subject, it shines a light on it. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was extremely disappointed with this book after reading the positive reviews. The book would have been better without the repeated cursing by the characters. Also, the detailed descriptions of the sexual abuse were very heartbreaking and disturbing. I cannot recommend this book to my Christian friends or family members. If I had known it was this kind of book, I would not have purchased it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great. It was touching and very dramatic. The characters are extremely well-developed, and each has a distinct voice. I recommended it to my friends and mom. Read this; it is a page-turner!
harstan More than 1 year ago
When Roy Laden died, the impact on his family was devastating. His widow Sarah struggles with her catering business and raising their two troubled sons. Teenage Nate has been suspended twice skipping school to visit his dad¿s gravesite. Her younger son fifth-grader Danny struggles with the loss too becoming more reticent. --- Sarah visits their neighbors Mark and Courtney Kendrick, but finds by himself eleven years old Jordan who seems very sick. Worried Sarah rushes Jordan to the nearest hospital where the doctors treat what was a suicide attempt, but also shockingly diagnose that the preadolescent suffers from gonorrhea. The cops obtain a search warrant to look inside the Kendrick home where they find plenty of pedophile evidence against Mark who has vanished nothing implicates Courtney, a physician treating her son¿s sexual transmitted illness on the sly, except covert submissive omission as a parent. The three Ladens now have something else that needs healing though each realizes nothing like what Courtney must require. --- Though at times preaching, THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS is a powerful family drama that looks at the impact of child sexual abuse on next door neighbors. The Ladens are wonderful characters as they alternate respective of the Before and After while readers and the trio will feel for Jordan, loathe Mark as a devil, and detest Courtney as a monster for not interceding. The story line is crisis driven as each Laden struggles with what they knew Before in different ways from the guilt of Sarah to the titillating amazement of Nate and to the shocked Danny of what happened to his peer by so called loved ones. Katrina Kittle hides nothing with this dark well written but not easy to read tale of abuse. --- Harriet Klausner
Moev More than 1 year ago
this book sucks you in and breaks your heart. Kittle is a wonderful writer who truely understands peoples ability to cope and heal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Katrina Kittle spins a great story, with believable characters and a wealth of information woven through the story line.
PaulineMA More than 1 year ago
I happened upon this book and I'm not even sure how. And now that I've read it, I can't believe it's not the talk of the town!  Katrina Kittle spins this story in such a way, I'm not sure my mere words can do it justice. A truly excellent book by an author that I will be following closely now.  The Kindness of Strangers is not my usual light read. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time. It's woven in a way that I felt like I was there, watching it unfold, wanting to stop things from happening and even sometimes NOT wanting to read the next sentence because of what might be revealed next. I was holding my breath at times and racing to turn the page at others.  The story being told from the perspective of the various characters through the story reveals so much more detail to the reader and really enhances your understanding of the interactions of everyone in the family.  This book was responsible for lost hours of sleep and I was relieved and disappointed to have finished it.
ShelleeRN More than 1 year ago
Katrina Kittle's "Kindness of Strangers" is, by far, the best book I have ever read, especially considering the content of this book. I, at first, was very hesitant to read "Kindness of Strangers" because of the content revolving around child abuse. Not the kind of book I would pick up, but a friend of mine gave it to me saying, "this is such a well written book, the topic won't bother you as you think it might." She was right. Katrina Kittle described the characters and their emotions brilliantly. I couldn't put the book down. When I was finished, I was disappointed it was over. I couln't wait to read another one of her books.
pdt More than 1 year ago
This book was so hard to read; but not because it wasn't good. It was so heart-breaking and yet could be happening in any neighborhood. I hope if I ever have to deal with a situation like this, that I can also be so kind.
MissChixx More than 1 year ago
I had this book for months on my wish list and hesitated for a long time to buy it...I don't know why. Now I have finally reading it and I am deeply touched by the story...Kittles writing style is amazing, the characters are well defined and strong...The book is about child molestation, no simple topic and nothing for the faint-hearted...Kittle is an enormous talented writer with deep psychological and emotional insight...The story will follow you even when you turned the last page.
Penambulations More than 1 year ago
Katrina Kittle's book "The Kindness of Strangers" is packed with emotionally believable characters. The plot, though at times disturbing, takes the reader on a journey through the experience of the main characters, a family and a family friend, as they each try to understand and cope with child sexual abuse. By using various points of view, Kittle is able to express the viewpoints of adults, teens and children effected by this trauma and its aftermath. This is a book that is brave, real and pithy in its contemporary pitch. I found myself emotionally draw to the characters portrayed with such emotional realism. Each main character had their own unique ongoing life-challenges along with struggling to cope with the shock and horror of the abuse. Although not an easy read, if the reader wants to learn about how the process of therapy can be effective with youth and how other people can support this process, I would highly recommend this book. The characters in this book model how love, compassion and commitment can be healing in the very worst of circumstances. This is a book about hope, about family, about belonging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually bought this book a few years ago from Barnes and Noble. I thought I might like the novel. But I was wrong I didn't like the novel. I LOVED the novel. "The Kindness of Strangers" will make you cry but it's such a true, genuine, touching novel. It shows us just how nice humanity is,even through the hardest of times.Trust me, You can't put the book down. I gave this novel to friends/family to read and they feel the same way I do. Honestly, this is by far my favorite story...nothing comes close!!! Read it! Trust me, you won't be disappointed!
olympus More than 1 year ago
It isn't until you get past the first few chapters that you realize you're involved in more than just a family drama. The intertwining of Jordan's family with Sara's is unbelievable and, fortunately, the author leaves many stones left unturned for you to discover as time and pages move on. I recommend this for anyone who enjoys an extreme look into a situation you hope you NEVER face.
AllyMaree More than 1 year ago
This book was so shocking! The twists and the plot were so amazing. The cover contradicts everything that happens in the book. Definitely a reminder to not judge a book by its cover!! Great read. I couldn't put it down, it's quite the pageturner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finished the book in one day - could not put it down. Heartbreaking, makes me angry at anyone who could ever hurt children, and yet happy that there are good people in the world too!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was excited when I read other reviews of this book, however a little disappointed when I read it. It's just okay.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that you can not put down till you are done with it. Lend the book and received the same reaction now i am going to read all her books great author and I read many books
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very interesting. It's so sad to read it though. Even though it's a fiction you know that this happens in this world. It really makes a difference when a stranger opens their heart and helps others.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of new FAV books. The Kindness of Strangers is a wonderful book and you wont want to put it down. I read it in one night--thats how great it was. The story line was great and the way Kittle writes about the characters you either love/or hate them and the story was great--it broke my heart to read about Jordan and how his mother and father abuse him--let alone to read about Sarah and her family how they stepped up and took Jordan in--if you love a good book READ THIS ONE!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am so glad I read this book. Be prepared for some haunting images to stay with you after.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The kindness of strangers is a book that deals with the extremely tough issue of child molestation. It dives deep into the world of a child that experiences this and I was left with a true feeling of understanding for the character, Jordan. Katrina Kittle writes this book in a no-holds-barr fashion while always keeping the emotion and feeling in the forefront. I will never forget the feeling of 'helping strangers' that she portrayed in this book and the fact that sometimes you just can't give up on a difficult situation or person, no matter what the circumstances. I would recommend this book to anyone, anywhere. I think that it brings us all back to the heart of human compassion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story was truly heartbreaking, hearing the abuse that the character Jordan had to endure. But at the same time it was touching to see how another family steps up to help this boy who would be struggling with this abuse for the rest of his life. This story is a strong drama that will keep you glued to the pages. I look forward to reading more by this author, she is an excellent writer.