The Distant Dead
By Heather Young
William Morrow, 9780062690814, June 2020, 352pp.
The Short of It:
A really good story, but not at all what I expected going into it.
The Rest of It:
A math teacher is found dead. His body, burned beyond recognition. Young Sal, one of his students makes the grisly discovery. The police determine it’s a homicide but no one has a clue how a mild mannered school teacher could be killed in this manner. Adam Merkel was fairly new to the area. Having only been there for seven months, no one had really gotten to know the man, except maybe Sal, who spent his lunches in Merkel’s classroom as a way to escape the schoolyard bullies and his loneliness and sadness over his mother’s death a year earlier.
This is a sad, tragic story. Although Merkel’s murder is front and center, the loss of Sal’s mother and the tragedy that Merkel faced before his death ties these two characters together in a very special way. When I picked this book up, I thought it was a murder mystery, and although there is a murder to solve, there is a lot more going on in the story than you would imagine.
Sal is a complex kid. He’s mature and able to feel and see things that a child his age might not normally notice. To escape the foster care system after his mother’s death, he’s forced to live with his two wayward uncles. One has an anger problem and the other is a drug dealer. They don’t seem to pay him any mind, as evidenced by his clothing that is too small or the fact that he never has enough to eat. So when Merkel takes a liking to the boy and provides support and friendship that Sal so desperately needs, Sal finds that he will do anything for the man.
Just so you know, there is NO, absolutely NO child molestation in this story. It might seem like that is where this story is headed so I wanted to tell you not to fear, this is not that kind of story. Instead it’s a story about pain and loss and friendship and what it means to be a family.
I enjoyed this story quite a bit.
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