By Sarah Yeo
This is the latest instalment in our collaboration with MediaCorp’s ilovebooks.com. Sarah reflects on the heart-wrenching impact of These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf.
“We’re not sure of the exact day he was born, but we don’t think he was more than a month old when he was left at the fire station.”
We often hear of babies being abandoned at the worst places—public toilets, the dumpsters, trash cans—anywhere, as long as the mother is rid of the burden that is her child. Fire stations, however, are relatively unheard of.
Given her fear of being found out, why would an unwed teenage mother choose to abandon her child at a place as conspicuous as the fire station, where she could have been easily discovered and arrested? Well, depending on the circumstances, child abandonment might not even be considered a crime at all; she would probably get away scot-free even if caught.
In ‘These Things Hidden’, the plot is built on Iowa’s Safe Haven law, which decriminalises child abandonment, allowing for newborns to be given up at designated Safe Haven sites and for the parents to remain anonymous. Despite this social safeguard, sixteen year old Allison Glenn gets sentenced to a ten year imprisonment for the murder of a child—her own child. Five years on, she is released on parole and sent to a halfway house, ready to start life anew, when her past comes back to haunt her—in the form of a five-year old boy, Joshua.
The story details Allison’s struggles and experiences after her jail term—how her parents disown her, how she has fallen from grace as Linden Falls’ golden girl, and how her crime has affected her sister and others around her. Told from the perspectives of four completely different women, all of whom are connected to Joshua in one way or another, the relationships between characters are slowly revealed in a way that makes the plot much darker, deeper and more complex than it seems, as it explores the difficult themes of motherhood, adolescence and family ties.
The book keeps readers curious throughout the story. While the plot might seem obvious and cliché from the beginning, there is more to Allison’s crime than it meets the eye, and the story takes on several unexpected twists that would surprise readers. Presenting the story from alternating viewpoints also allows Gudenkauf to cleverly navigate the themes of familial ties and tensions. It allows readers to better understand what family relationships mean to each of the characters, effectively driving home the message that family ties are important and should be cherished.
However, as the story progresses, certain aspects of the plot start to seem unrealistic and far-fetched. This is especially so for a story which deals with real life issues and the prevalent problems of teenage pregnancy and child abandonment. In addition, readers may be confused and disconnected by the continuous flashbacks and Gudenkauf’s occasional jerky transition from one viewpoint to the other.
‘These Things Hidden’ is, on the whole, a rather compelling read, especially if you are the sentimental type. For those who are less “emo”, it might not be quite as gripping, but the plot is, nevertheless, a refreshing one.
A disclaimer to the cynics out there: Don’t read this book.
The writer’s e-book was sponsored by Mediacorp Interactive. To purchase the e-book, please go to: http://www.ilovebooks.com/ebooks/home/98F65252-33CF-42A3-AF5E-7047BE650BB4/These_Things_Hidden . As part of this collaboration, all RI staff and students are eligible for an exclusive 10% discount from October 29 to November 11. Simply key in the promo code (SGMIG120249RIR) at the checkout by filling in the blank, and click APPLY.