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Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Beautiful Child (review)

A Beautiful Child by Matt Birkbeck
Reason for reading: Recommendation from my sister
Rating: 4.5/5

Summarize the plot: A Beautiful Child is the true life story of a girl named Sharon. In high school, she was at the top of her class, she worked as a Lt. Colonel in the ROTC, won a scholarship to Georgia Tech, and seemed to have everything going for her. But behind the facade, she was forced to hide a terrible secret about the man she called her father, a secret she kept so well even those who knew her best never guessed the truth.

1-Sentence Review: A tightly written book that examines a tragic young life, the man who took it from her, and the search to find out her true identity.

Longer review: A Beautiful Child was an interesting choice to read around the same time as another book I reviewed earlier this week, The Lucifer Effect. The latter is a lengthy academic contemplation on the nature of evil, and the potential for evil within everyone. A Beautiful Child, on the other hand, is a short, true-crime, journalistic look at a person who can only be described as pure evil.

Without giving away too much from the novel, Shannon Marshall, likely kidnapped as a child, was forced by a man named Franklin Floyd to live out a life with him that became ever more horrifying as his grip over her intensified. It is a tragic story, through and through, and yet because Birkbeck writes with a terse, journalistic style, I felt like I could handle reading it. I felt an emotional connection to the story, but I never felt that the book was emotionally exploitive, shoving my nose into a situation that is already horrible enough.

Shannon Marshall's life defies understanding. As Birkbeck unraveled the layers to her life, the lies she was forced to enact, and the sheer number of people who sensed something was wrong but didn't intervene in time, a huge question emerges that Birkbeck only briefly addresses. How could something like this happen? While giving a serious answer to a complicated question like that is outside the scope of this book, I think most readers will walk away from the book at the very least, contemplating that question. Hopefully it will be a wake-up call for anyone who encounters an exploited child to take signs of abuse seriously.

Should I read it? It is a quick, thought-provoking read, but be forwarned that the details are shocking and some may find them disturbing.



Alice Teh said...

This is the type of book that I would read despite its darker/grim content. Thanks for the review, Kim!

Anonymous said...

I read this brilliant book last year and it still haunts me.

SuziQoregon said...

This sounds very interesting. True crime books have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. I blame Ann Rule and Vincent Bugliosi for that. I think I might need to find this one.