The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard
Published in 1997, this book quickly made it to the top of the bestseller list and I think I first read it about that time. It was later made into a movie (which I must have seen years ago, as images kept coming back to me). Having just found it again at the library, I have just re-read it.
This is a great book, full of depth and detail. Having said that if you have young children, I don’t recommend reading it at your stage. Beth Cappadora, with her three young children, heads off to her 15-year high school reunion leaving husband Pat at home alone for the weekend. Caught up in the excitement of seeing old school friends, Beth leaves 3-year-old Ben with 7-year-old Vincent in the hotel lobby while she sorts out her room reservation. Not five minutes later she returns and Ben is gone. Totally and completely gone.
A shoe found about 12 hours later indicates it was an abduction and from then the family spiral into a parent’s worst nightmare. Over the years, you read how the family deals with it, mainly Beth, Pat and Vincent, along with friends, extended family and the police force. A close friendship is forged between Beth and Candy, the officer in charge.
Those events and the following 9 years cover the first half of the book. While I rarely give spoilers (alert!), this one is on the back of the book, so it seems OK. The second half details what happens after a strangely familiar 12-year-old from the neighbourhood knocks on the door offering to the mow the lawn. Astonishingly it is Ben. What follows next is the aftermath for the families – the Cappadoras with an increasingly delinquent Vincent, Pat who is delighted and insists his family is back together, and Beth who begins to see the pain that Ben is in. For Ben, now known as Sam, has known loving parents – his mentally ill ‘mother’ did abduct him, but his step-father George knew nothing of it and has raised him, and that family is all Sam knows and remembers.
Mitchard does an excellent job of cataloguing the varied ways that grief, guilt and pain can strike different people, including children. It’s a book that tears at your heart, yet all the time wills you to keep reading it. A good choice for some holiday reading.