It isn’t uncommon for a teenage girl to experience an intense friendship with a younger child; to have an overwhelming affection for a living doll. This relationship is based on companionship, mothering and anxiety about growing up. This type of relationship is the basis of Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott.
Theresa is a parent approved Pied Piper in her 1960’s Hampton neighborhood. Her working class parents moved to this affluent area when Theresa was a child in hopes that access to a more cash heavy world would better her chances in life. So far it’s brought her access but through the back door. Theresa is the most desired babysitter and pet-sitter of the rich.
During her fifteenth summer Theresa gets a tag-along. Her eight year old cousin Daisy is spending the summer with her. Daisy is a loving little girl. Her family life is crowded and Daisy has been lost in the shuffle. She and Theresa are a perfect fit and it isn’t long before Theresa sees all that is going on with Daisy.
As the summer progresses we get an insider’s view of the neighborhood: the grieving, the absentee parents, divorces, leering fathers and runaway mothers. Theresa and Daisy are the anecdote to their affection-less lives for most of the children they watch. However, as mature and perceptive as Theresa is she is still only a fifteen year old. It’s impossible for her to save everyone or to always make the right choices for herself.
McDermott has filled Child of My Heart with the kinds of details that evoke an emotional response from the reader. Her depiction of Theresa’s movement between her charges and the adult world she’ll soon be a member of is both touching and alarming. This is a bittersweet jewel of a novel. Alice McDermott has captured a moment in time with a delicate and seductive hand.