A sixth grader disappears in broad daylight from a 1950s Boston suburb in “Is This Tomorrow” and everyone is brought to a standstill by shock, grief and suspicion. The police investigate, but not thoroughly enough for anyone’s expectations. Even divorcee, Ava Lark, comes under scrutiny, just because she is single, Jewish, working, and the missing boy (her son’s best friend) spent time at her house.
Everybody that knew the missing boy, Jimmy, even in passing, is questioned without success. He seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Neighborhood watches are organized, the woods are searched, parents walk the children back and forth to school, ‘stranger’ warnings are issued. Everyone is in denial; nobody wants to think the worst. His sister and best friend even choose to believe that Jimmy just left – that he went to a wonderful place on their ‘travel map’ – the route they had promised to take together when they got older.
Time passes and people adjust to the idea that Jimmy is gone. The friends and neighbors promise never to forget, to keep looking, but to most of the world, Jimmy becomes ‘the boy who went missing.’ But, not to his sister Rose, and his best friend, Lewis. Not even to Ava. Their world has been changed forever by Jimmy’s disappearance. We observe that changed world through Ava’s eyes, and then Lewis and Rose’s, in painful and insightful ways for years after the terrible day.
Leavitt explores the attitudes of society toward divorcees and the limited options available to all women in the 1950s and 1960s, truths still echoing today. In “Is This Tomorrow,” Ava struggles to make ends meet and feels adrift, loving her son, but not knowing how to help him or herself in a culture that perceives her as damaged goods. Lewis blames her for his father’s absence; Rose blames her own mother for not doing more to help herself after Jimmy goes missing. The ache is palpable.
The story unfolds as the children and the adults deal with paralyzing guilt and surprising revelations, both about Jimmy and themselves. As moments in that long ago day are relived through several character’s eyes and what-if scenarios are rehashed, we see how one person’s clueless stupidity can send a ripple of destruction in every direction. Even worse, the selfish reactions to that stupidity can cause even more harm, when kept secret for so long.
The children in “Is This Tomorrow” are drawn so well – their interactions, their need to belong, their missteps in social situations, their craving for an intact family. I knew kids like this in my teaching days, listened to their stories.
While the topics discussed are challenging and serious, there is growth and change in circumstances, as well as triumph along the way in this memorable novel.
Well done, Ms. Leavitt.
Read the review of an earlier novel, "Pictures of You," here.
Please visit www.carolineleavitt.com for the latest news about NYT Bestseller Caroline Leavitt’s work.
*Note from Patti Phillips:
As sometimes happens, Nightstand Book Reviews and my other website, www.kerriansnotebook.com have overlapped in this review of Leavitt’s perceptive examination of how families deal with the devastating case of a missing child.
The fact-based post “How long has your daughter been missing?” can be read at http://bit.ly/1enFF0k
Go to http://www.namus.gov/ for more information about the U.S. Department of Justice program, a source of information regarding missing persons.