“On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire. I was nine.”
These are the first lines of a journal that chronicles Kip McFarland’s journey from normal little boy, to incarcerated youth, to star swimmer and, ultimately, to the young man he will become. In one horrible instant Kip’s life changes into a nightmare from which he can’t escape.
Written in simple, straight-forward language, ‘Right Behind You’ hits all the right notes and creates a poignant blend of honesty, hurt, anger and healing. Kip spends years in a mental hospital for the dangerous juvenile offenders where he is surrounded by true monsters. Readers may have trouble accepting the Kip (a.k.a. Wade) whose P.O.V. they share to the monster the outside world sees. But that very dichotomy is part of what makes this book so potent; nothing is as black and white as it may seem and readers must conclude for themselves whether Kip is worthy of redemption. Or forgiveness.
The fundamental difference between Kip and his fellow patients is subtle but obvious to the reader. However, for Kip it is an elusive truth that takes many years and hours of therapy for to accept. Readers will cringe with Kip when he self-destructs and share his sense of peace when he finally begins to accept himself and his past. They will also sympathize with secondary characters in this novel and their reactions to Kip; reactions that are ripe for starting class discussion. Ultimately readers learn, as does Kip, that forgetting the past isn’t the key to moving forward, the trick is living with the past.Discussion Questions:
- Is Wade’s third therapist correct? Was there more than one victim of Kip’s crime?
- Was Kip’s punishment enough? How does intent affect a criminal’s sentencing?
- Discuss why proving intent is so important in criminal cases.
- The Buddhist idea of “feeding hungry ghosts” is used several times throughout the novel. Is this an appropriate allegory?
- Sam says “you can’t just stop when you have an addictive personality”. How does this impact reader’s perception of Sam as a character?
Review by: Rebecca
Recommended Ages: 16+ underage drinking and drug use, incarcerated youth, psychological issues/illness, murder, mild foul language