Cathleen Magee is a single mother who has spent all but the first six months of her precious son Colm's life trying to find out the underlying cause of Colm's collapses. Terrifyingly, during his collapses, he stops breathing and his heart stops. When the book opens, Colm has another of his episodes and he and his mother end up in the office of the doctor who finally diagnoses what is causing the problem. And it's not harmless. Although Colm has thus far always come back from the empty blackness he experiences when he is technically dead, Dr. Basu has to tell Cathleen that what Colm is suffering from is in fact a progressive and ultimately terminal illness. But such a diagnosis does not deter Cathleen, a devout Catholic, from her continued quest to find a cure for Colm, whether by means of medicine or miracle.
While Cathleen prays for a miracle, even taking Colm to Assisi, Italy in search of a miracle healing, Colm himself, although only 7, recognizes that his time is short and that there will be no miracle. He also knows that there is no heaven because when he collapses, he descends into a dark nothingness. Reluctant to destroy his mother's hope, he confides in Dr. Basu, who has fallen hard for Cathleen and her small doomed son, despite the terrible tragedy in his own background. What Colm most wants, once he is assured that Dr. Basu and his uncle Sean will be there to support his mother when he is gone, is to find the father who abandoned him before he was born. Although wise beyond his years in so many ways, Colm is still searching for a complete family, in spite of the family he has gathered to himself and who all love him desperately.
The characters here are all lost and searching. They are searching for family, for completeness, for a sense of peace, for love, for faith, and for the certainty of an afterlife. Cathleen's need for hope and her desperate search for it anywhere she sees a glimmer is well done. She has wrapped her whole being into Colm's small failing body and if strength of will alone could keep him alive, she would be able to ensure he lives forever. Colm, while certainly more prescient than most children his age, comes across as too old. There is little about him of a child, making his character feel less authentic than his mother's. The additional storyline of uncle Sean's alcoholism is perhaps a bit too much. Obviously Sean is searching just as much as any of the other characters here but because he is not the focus of the story, his struggle and addiction take a backseat to the rest, almost minimizing the terrible toll alcoholism has on a family.
Since each of the characters' internal dialogues are revealed, the reader can see just what is driving each of them individually. This has benefits but it also has the drawback of sometimes being too easily laid out for the reader. Just as the existence of heaven and even faith itself is a mystery, the characters should not have explained all of their actions, leaving the actions themselves to speak for them. There was a lot of emotion packed into the pages here, as you would expect from a book that addresses the death (or potential death) or a child. The tension of wondering if Colm was going to finish his quest or if Cathleen would come to terms with his disagnosis ran consistently throughout the narrative. And yet when the end of the novel came, it was somehow a letdown, and left me feeling confused. I certainly understand what happened at the end but there were so many unfinished threads that I was astonished to find there was nothing further to read. It felt more like a full stop ending than a resolution, even one that deliberately left things unexplained. An interesting premise about facing the unknowable and unthinkable, sometimes with grace and other times with rage, it fell just slightly short of the promise for me.
For more information about Mary Curran Hackett and the book visit her webpage, her Facebook page, or follow her on Twitter.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.