Walking home from school one autumn day in their idyllic British town, siblings Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan encounter a scene that fundamentally changes each of them in differing ways. As the trio passes a field, Zoe spots something out of the ordinary; “she had a gift for finding things: birds’ nests, their mother’s calculator, a missing book, a secret.” Lying in the grass is a boy, barely older than them, who appears to have been attacked. The boy recovers, but what happened and who is responsible remains a mystery as the three Lang children come to terms with what they experienced as well as parts of themselves previously unknown.
Margot Livesey’s new novel, “The Boy in the Field” (2020, Harper Collins), is a page-turner that investigates the mystery of the boy, Karel’s, attack, while beautifully developing memorable characters. Duncan, the youngest Lang sibling, is a kind, observant, talented artist. Unlike his brother and sister, he is adopted, and when his birth mother appears to him in a dream shortly after the events of the field, he is determined to find and meet her. Zoe, sixteen, begins experiencing out-of-body moments and is drawn to pursue a man she comes across somewhat randomly while walking down the street, leading to an unexpected and surprising outcome.
Matthew, the oldest Lang, becomes invested in solving Karel’s case as he juggles the common stresses of being a senior. While he faces the prospect of graduation and navigating close relationships, Matthew confides in the case’s detective: “Since that afternoon in the field, everything’s been different… I thought if we could find the man, if I knew why he did what he did, things would go back to normal. Or I’d understand why they were different.” The detective, however, gets to the heart of the novel while explaining to Matthew: “you’re wrestling with the problem of evil. I’m twice your age, and I’m still wrestling with it. Nothing prepares one for the discovery that there are people who have no conscience.”
Though the premise of a young man’s attack and the mystery surrounding it is a bit dark, Livesey’s writing and introspective look at each of her characters creates a coming of age story that contains depth as well as charm. The small town in which the Langs live is unironically pleasant – the older siblings enjoy their after school jobs, their family dog interjects with loyalty and care at all the right moments, and the parents, while facing challenges of their own, are supportive and loving. The unabashed sweetness of the novel is never overly saccharine, however. Livesey demonstrates a simple, yet difficult to grasp, reality: both terrible and wonderful things can happen without reason.
Check out “The Boy in the Field” at your closest Denver Public Library location or as an ebook or eaudiobook through denverlibrary.com.
Hannah Evans is the senior librarian at the Smiley Branch of the Denver Public Library.