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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.