A Child Left Behind

Fiction - Drama
224 Pages
Reviewed on 05/12/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon is a contemporary urban political story that revolves around the central plot of a newborn who has been left in the bathroom of a diner in Stockton, California. The novel is formatted into vignettes, each narrated in a first-person stream of consciousness by the character, each unique in their socio and ethnic diversity, and each afforded their own voice, including ancillary characters. Alicia Gonzales, who found the baby, is an undocumented student who works at Clara's cafe. Alicia lives in a house owned by a handicapped evangelist grandmother named Violet “Vi” Mackey, Vi's equally enthusiatic born-again Christian granddaughter Martha Shriver, and two other students, Tori Maxwell and Moua Sok. The five pull together in an effort to raise the child collaboratively, with motivations that vary as wildly as their personalities and backgrounds, and with the consent of the child's mother, a young woman with malleable standards regarding work and sobriety named Morgan Welsh, who has motives of her own.

A Child Left Behind is an absolutely brilliant look at the life experiences of multiple different people and how even the tiniest thread can connect a patchwork of people into a common cause, regardless of which side they take on its final outcome. There is a romantic component between Alicia and a former Army Ranger named Eduardo, who is able to counter some of the vitriol that fellow veteran Jack Mackey, Vi's ex-husband, spits out. Phil Hutcheon nails the undercurrents of politics and persuasion played out in a formulation of the narrator-of-the-moment, offering some of the most authentic dialogue I've read in a long, long time, as well as developing characters that we either would choose to ignore in real life or, at best, feel ambivalent toward. Instead we are forced to get to know them between the jacket of a book that doesn't permit leniency, ramming us through a character-driven story with an ambiguous final scene. And guess what? I loved it.

Grant Leishman

A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon takes the reader inside the workings of Child Protective Services and the decisions that have to be made to protect an innocent child’s future when that child is callously abandoned as a baby. Alicia, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, has been studying and working in Stockton, California for a number of years. During one of her shifts at the diner where Alicia works as a waitress, she discovers a new-born baby girl abandoned in the diner’s restroom. Filled with compassion and missing her own family greatly, Alicia is determined to play some part in rescuing this poor little baby girl from the fate that has befallen her. With dreams of becoming a doctor and studying pre-med at the local community college plus her job at the diner, Alicia is hardly in a position to do much to help the wee mite but she reasons that with the help of her three roommates and her landlady they might just be able to offer this little girl a home and a family. Little does Alicia realize the Pandora’s box of problems her love and compassion is about to open. Alicia and her student friends' lives will never be the same again once they embark down this road.

A Child Left Behind is not a story for the Conservatives amongst us. To be fair, author Phil Hutcheon warns prospective readers that this book was written very much from a Liberal/Democrat perspective with little regard for the current administration in the White House. No problem there for this reader. The author’s ensemble cast of characters is probably the standout in this read. Any author prepared to tell his story from so many differing perspectives is an author of courage in my book and, to a large extent, it works. I loved the sweet, caring relationship that was built between Alicia and Eduardo. Especially important was the veteran’s reaction to returning to “normal” society after a tour of Afghanistan with the Army Rangers. His no-nonsense approach to life was refreshing and yet he was still able to convey great empathy for other veterans who had struggled with their reintegration. This book is an easy read and one that flows well from one character to another. It raises some excellent questions about who we are, what’s important in life, and how to treat others. I enjoyed this read and just wish it had been double its size.

Lesley Jones

In A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon, Alicia Gonzales, an illegal immigrant and student, works at a diner run by motherly Clara. When Alicia finds a baby abandoned in the diner restroom, she immediately wants to keep the baby but those close to her fear it may attract the attention of the authorities. Alicia convinces those she lives with -- an elderly Christian, Vi, and her granddaughter plus two other students -- to help raise the baby and track down the baby's mother with the help of a fictitious reward. As the five women begin to raise the baby, we discover they each have their own motivations for doing so. As the women begin to bond with the baby, the mother, Morgan, appears to claim the reward. At first, Morgan seems to want to put her troubled past behind her, but events that follow prove otherwise. When the baby's fate falls into the hands of the authorities, Alicia battles fearlessly to secure custody but with no financial security, her task seems impossible.

A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon is a well-written gritty account of life through the eyes of different generations, races, and backgrounds. The characters are as diverse as their memorable personalities. The author has cleverly relayed a relevant and realistic tale of the many social and political issues surrounding people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The vicious circle of the poverty trap, the healthcare system, drug use, and violent crime, as well as their treatment at the hands of authorities, are just some of the subjects tackled. I loved the romantic relationship between Alicia and Eduardo and how it developed. The dialogue is very comical at times but there are also some very heartbreaking and brutal scenes. The story really places you in the shoes of someone who is struggling to find their own American dream in a hostile and very often unfair society.

Alyssa Elmore

When a young woman discovers an abandoned infant, she enlists the assistance of her four roommates to help care for the child in the winning novel, A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon. Nineteen-year-old Mexican immigrant Alicia is working hard at a local diner to pay her way through college. With the meager earnings she's making, she barely has enough money to pay her bills, stay in college, and still send some cash back home to her family in Mexico. Determined to make it through medical school to become a doctor, she is very focused on her future goals; until she finds a baby deserted in the bathroom of her workplace. Abruptly, her plans change to make room for the tiny infant. Unwilling to see the precious baby girl getting lost in the system, Alicia gathers the support of her four roommates. But, just as things began going according to plan, life throws another curveball. Now, Alicia must face failure and watch her dreams become ashes. With a choice to make, Alicia may just discover a strength she didn't know she had. Will she be able to keep the baby? Or will the baby's presence in her life destroy her college plans?

Drawing on inspiration from Faulkner, A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon is an irreverent narrative of five college students from varying backgrounds, mostly minority, that are following their dreams. Along with the students, the novel follows the lives of a few more diverse characters, creating an unputdownable novel. I was immediately impressed with Hutcheon's ability to distinguish his characters' voices. Although each character is written in the first-person narrative, Hutcheon masterfully creates individual personalities, each with their own vernacular and background, most of whom I instantly fell in love with and admired. I came away from the story feeling inspired and oddly hopeful for our nation's future. Never before have I read a book with a first-person narrative in which the author has so excellently developed his story and characters. I appreciated the characters' viewpoints on the current happenings in the world today and admired the author for effectively portraying the political climate and how the United States government's actions affect our lives. This book should be a must-read for anyone on the fence concerning their country's issues and how they, as individuals, relate to the solutions. Challenging socially correct thinking, this novel may have the effect of altering one's political perspective. I would recommend this book to a mature reader as it contains adult content.

Lucinda E Clarke

In A Child Left Behind, Phil Hutcheon recounts the story of a baby found in a ladies’ washroom in a restaurant. She is rescued by Alicia, a college student, and taken back to the house she shares with several other students. The house is owned by an elderly lady confined to a wheelchair whose husband lives in the garage outside. The book has a large cast of characters, and each takes turns in narrating the story. We meet the other residents; the social worker, the local pastor, the policeman, and his partner. They are from a variety of backgrounds; Hispanic, Caucasian, Afro American, Mexican and Native American. Each one has a different viewpoint on living in today’s America. Some are newly arrived, illegal or descended from families who arrived centuries ago. The plan is to adopt the foundling despite all obstacles, but then the mother returns, followed by a horrific accident.

I found A Child Left Behind by Phil Hutcheon a complete page-turner. I’d been intrigued by the copious warnings at the beginning of the book that the content may offend sensitive readers. Was this book an honest look at the problems faced by many in modern society? Yes, it was and that was so refreshing. No, it’s not politically correct but it’s so candid it was a joy to read. I could recognize the teacher behind the writer, eager to pass on knowledge and increase understanding, and, for me, this book works. The characters leap off the page, the story kept me turning the pages and I read the book in one sitting. I loved the diversity of the people. The pastor who didn’t keep his hands to himself, the deeply religious who didn’t question, the kind, the manipulating, the ungrateful, the cruel, the thief, the hard-working sensible hero and heroine who follow the rules set by society. I would love for this to be prescribed reading in schools – there are questions at the back for teachers to use in the classroom. I wish all literature was as open and honest as this book.