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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
Through his historical fiction novel, Sycamore Drive, Charles Michael Casper explores unpleasant truths, but in this case with a focus on the long-term ramifications of priestly pedophilia on victims, perpetrators, and whistle-blowers. The whistle-blower is a younger priest, Watson, torn by indecision regarding the confidentiality of the confessional. The perp is the senior, highly respected Monseigneur Donnelly. But there is a third character in this story whose purpose is initially puzzling: Norman is brilliant, but a somewhat strange young adult, perhaps autistic, who is a reclusive yet talented pianist. When Norman finds in a Catholic family the acceptance he can’t get elsewhere, he converts to Catholicism and it is ultimately with the help of Norman and a couple of lesser characters, that the young priest can find some peace after blowing the whistle.
If you saw the Oscar-winning movie, Spotlight, and if you are Catholic…or even if you aren’t…perhaps you were shocked by the truths that movie revealed about pedophilia amongst Catholic priests. But what one most takes away from this story is the lengths to which the Catholic Church goes to protect its ugly secrets, to attempt rehabilitation of the offender, and to ultimately accept how futile those attempts are. Sycamore Drive is an easy read with likable and realistic characters, a good smattering of natural dialogue, a minimum of settings, and plenty of narrative. Readers’ emotions are most involved in Norman’s and Watson’s personal tribulations while feeling appropriate disdain for the offender. Kudos to Charles Michael Casper for weaving believable fiction around the upsetting realities of life in the Catholic priesthood.