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Child of My Heart Hardcover – December 12, 2002

3.6 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Fifteen is a year of clarity; you're still one of the kids, but you're finally beginning to unlock the mysteries of adult behavior. In her luminous novel Child of My Heart, Alice McDermott's narrator is a 15-year-old girl who has two qualities that give her access to the secret lives of adults: she's beautiful, and she looks after their children. Her beauty has already shaped her life. Her parents have moved the family to the east end of Long Island in hopes of finding her a wealthy husband, or at least a fancy crowd to run with. Here she babysits the children of the rich, whose fathers demonstrate their relative decency by making passes at her, or not. The novel spans a dreamy summer as our heroine spends her days with her various charges at the beach, happily leading her crew on home-grown, rather sweet adventures. Among the kids she looks after is a toddler whose father is a famous, aging artist. The narrator's preternatural acuity is apparent in this exchange with a new client: "Mrs. Richardson learned by direct inquiry that I lived in that sweet cottage with the dahlias (interested) and went to the academy (more interested) and babysat for this child of the famous artist (most interested) down the road." Child of My Heart is a pretty straightforward coming-of-age novel, but it's marked throughout by this beautifully honed, wry, knowing tone. McDermott's narrator reminds us that our lost innocence might not have been so innocent after all. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

There is something almost too good to be true about Theresa, the introspective and unusually perceptive narrator who recalls the summer of her 15th year in this engaging, taut novel by McDermott (Charming Billy). Theresa's Irish-American "well-read but undereducated" parents have little money but plenty of foresight; when they see that their only daughter will be beautiful, they move to East Hampton, Long Island, summer playground of New York City's richest, in the hopes that Theresa's beauty will eventually win her a wealthy husband. Because she has a way with children and animals, her parents have long encouraged her to baby-sit and pet-sit as a way to meet and impress the right people. This particular summer, her favorite cousin, eight-year-old Daisy, tags along as Theresa cares for dogs, cats, neighbor kids and a toddler named Flora, the only child of a 70-year-old womanizing artist and his fourth trophy wife. Entirely self-involved, the artist does manage to look away from his canvas and mistress long enough to notice Theresa, who finds his attentions exciting. Early on, Theresa discovers a tragic secret of Daisy's that she decides to keep to herself, which gives the summer and the book a wistful, melancholy air. As the girls corral their charges, Theresa offers half-innocent, half-ironic comments on the vanities and topsy-turvy family lives of her employers. This is another charmer from McDermott; it's evocative, gently funny and resonant with a sense of impending loss, as all stories of youthful summers must be. There's a whisper of maudlin sentimentality throughout, but Theresa is so likable, and her observations so acute, that one easily forgives it.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 242 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (December 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374121230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374121235
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #891,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
You can read this book in one concentrated sitting, and the book feels like an inspired burst of breath. There are many passages of writing that are superb - some of the best sentence-writing McDermott has ever done... and that's saying something. Mcdermott's forte has always been rendering the specificities of life with a sober, but poetic slant. There is nothing really intriguing about the events themselves in McDermott's novels, but filtered through McDermott's eyes, everything becomes somehow meaningful... even sacrosanct.
This book can be called a bildungsroman, but unlike most rite-of-passage books which tend to take a sweeping view of a person's life, this novel takes a slice from a girl's life (a single summer, a few weeks) and examines how such a short moment transformed everything in the world for her.
The story is simplicity itself. Theresa is a fifteen year-old, a precocious babysitter, who looks after her young cousin, Daisy. On the surface level, not much goes on in the novel. There are adults who make up the moral landscape of the novel, and it's a tribute to McDermott's strength as a writer that much of this moral landscape is filled in through the absence of these adult characters... this vacuity that exists in the novel makes this suburban world of Theresa seem very lonely.
The climax of the novel (which I won't give away) is quite foreseeable, but this doesn't distract us from being engaged. The ending is as natural and inevitable as life itself, and although unspoken, it is quite clear that Theresa will never be the girl of fifteen again hence.
As I've mentioned, some of the writing is magnificent. The last fifty pages of the book achieve a kind of incandescence; I got one of those rare buzzes you only get from a special kind of writing.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To read Alice McDermott is to enter a wonderland made up of familiar terrain but you still need a road map. With her clean, economical prose she cuts right through the arrogance of the wealthy and the submissiveness of the poor. Fifteen year old Theresa is unlike anyone I have ever encountered in fiction but have known in real life. Thoughtful, kind, and confident, she marches through Long Island, ministering to the neglected children of the rich. When her eight year old cousin Daisy comes to spend a few weeks with Theresa's family, Theresa recognizes how much in need of repair Daisy is. Physically but also emotionally, for Daisy is one of many children of a poor family and has been not abused so much as over looked. Theresa's own family seems to emotionally neglect her too, so caring for Daisy is, in a way, also caring for Theresa. They have a strong bond and Theresa creates a lovely summer for her. The thoughtless and careless ways of the rich are balanced by the thoughtless, careless, ways of the poor. Reading Child of My heart is like reading a primer in how to behave. Do yourself a favor and read this wonderful book. Thanks goodness for Alice McDermott!
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Format: Hardcover
*SPOILERS* I heard Alice McDermott on the radio, promoting her book on NPR and I was instantly captivated by her elegant comments. She read the second paragraph of the book and the next thing I know I was rushing to the bookshop to buy it. It was very easy to get attached to the book right from the first page. The lightness of the narration is enchanting and was addictive for some time, but soon it became boring when I realized that the story was not going anywhere. After I lost my enthusiasm, I left the book aside for a few months and sort of just finished recently just to get rid of it. The sexual involvement of Theresa with a 70-year old drunk and womanizer artist was profoundly disturbing to me and kind of out of context. It made me regret reaching the end of the book. I really would like to ask the author the reason behind this passage. Also, Theresa's irresponsibility of knowing that Daisy was sick and not taking any action did not gain my sympathy either. Although I was not fond of the book itself, McDermott has a charismatic way of writing and I certainly plan to read her other books.
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Format: Hardcover
...Wow. One might be tempted at first to say that this doesn't live up to "Charming Billy." The story of "Child of My Heart" isn't much of a story at all, when compared to Ms. McDermott's previous novel. Where "Charming Billy" spanned decades and told the stories of the lives of several people and how they were all affected by Billy, "Child of My Heart" confines itself to a few days in the life of the beautiful Theresa and her summer charges. Simple, yes, but utterly heartbreaking. I found myself stopping to re-read sentences that merely told of a gesture or a breath. There are chapters in Ms. McDermott's sentences -- things untold that mean the world and explain even more. The color of a girl's shoes, the way sun shines off a man's hair, it's the details in this novel that make it a wonder. It's the details that make the world of "Child of My Heart" so believable that not one plot point seems forced or even expected -- you are lulled by the sound of the wind on these summer days, the movements of the shadows on a porch, and are satisfied enough simply to follow Theresa, Daisy, and company to the beach or to an attic.
This book will stay with you long after you are finished. You won't expect it to, and you may even be skeptical when reading of lollipops and rabbits, but just go on and read it and do yourself a wonderful favor.
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