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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Child's Play is a literary fiction coming-of-age mystery written by Nancy Swing. Each of them was stunned by the news of the accident. That Mary Margaret Gravesly, one of the society matrons of Lewiston, should be found dead in her Mercedes, the buttery-yellow color of which perfectly matched her hair, along with Ray-Jean Shackleford, an impoverished 13-year-old tomboy from one of the trailer parks which dotted the wrong side of the dying West Virginia town, seemed implausible, impossible even, to both Eden Jones, the chubby misfit who hero-worshiped her larger-than-life best friend, and Bethanne Swanson, whose own bedraggled history of failed marriages, spousal abuse and alcoholism seemed even more abject in comparison to her sister, Mary Margaret’s own meteoric climb from their modest upbringing in small-town Alabama. What Eden couldn't accept was that Ray-Jean had been found with her seat belt firmly buckled in sitting next to Mary Margaret -- Ray-Jean hated seat belts with a passion -- and why would she be in that woman's car anyway?
Bethanne's thoughts went back to the last time she had traveled up from Birmingham to ask her sister for help. Mary Margaret, her elder, seemed brighter, prettier and younger, as Bethanne stood there, her jaw still sore from Jack's punch, feeling degraded and a failure. She had tried to get Mary Margaret to get her husband to pay for a condo for Bethanne. After all, she had gone to college and had what seemed like a fairy tale existence, Now Mary Margaret was gone, and the media was in a frenzy, blasting out the bizarre details of a Mercedes flying into the lake, leaving the two implausible occupants in a watery grave. Eden didn't know how she was going to cope with the strange new world she found herself in. Life had always been challenging for the chubby, introverted 13-year-old who was targeted by her peers in school and was also parenting her infant brother in the stifling little trailer that was their home while her mother worked. Ray-Jean had always been there for her, had encouraged her to succeed where she felt no confidence; together they were a team that shone far beyond the shuttered downtown, the unemployed workers sitting around in front yards and the overwhelming sense of poverty and despair.
Nancy Swing's coming of age thriller, Child's Play, takes the reader to rural West Virginia, to a town filled with contrasts, where downtown had become a virtual ghost-town while the well-to-do still had polished mansions, fancy cars and servants. Eden, the thirteen-year old introvert, who wonders why anyone would have a child while cleaning up vomited food off her infant brother and watching University television at night, is a stunning character who comes into her own after her dominant and charismatic best friend, Ray-Jean, is gone. From the tragedy of that dramatic plunge to a watery death, Eden and Bethanne's conjoined search for answers leads them into danger, self-doubt and an enduring friendship that is remarkable to behold as it is unfolding. Child's Play is a lovely and transcendent reminder of how powerful Southern fiction can be. The long, hot and dusty days and broken-down trailer courts are revealed in brilliant contrast to the community pool and the lake where Bethanne teaches the ungainly and shy teen to swim. Was it a suicide -- a desperate attempt to finally end it all -- or a cold-blooded act of murder? Swing keeps the reader on edge and wondering even as her own protagonists work towards the truth. I loved this book and looked forward to every moment I spent reading it. Child's Play is a powerful coming of age novel with an unforgettable cast of characters. It's most highly recommended.