Book Review: A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder

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A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder by Karen Spears Zacharias. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

In light of the tragic death last month of Baton Rouge’s own Xzayvion Riley, an 8-year-old who lost his life after being severely beaten – his parents are charged with murder in the first degree –, the summer 2012 One Book One Community pick could not be timelier. A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder by Karen Spears Zacharias is the story of a three-year-old girl named Karly Sheehan who was continuously abused and finally brutally tortured and murdered by her mother Sarah’s live-in boyfriend. Zacharias, an investigative journalist, had taken Karly’s mother into her home when Sarah was a pregnant teenager down on her luck, and it is the author’s personal connection with Sarah that makes the reality of what happened to Karly hit that much closer to home and compelled Zacharias to share Karly’s story with the world.

Zacharias certainly doesn’t mince words when reviewing the failures on the part of various adults in Karly’s life, from social workers to police officers to lawyers, all of whom inexplicably failed to do anything tangible about the abuse that was happening before their very eyes, an intervention that ultimately could have prevented the baby’s senseless murder.

Despite its devastating subject matter, A Silence of Mockingbirds is a surprisingly quick read, with Zacharias introducing (much-needed) moments of levity when describing the precocious toddler’s playfulness with her devoted father David and other members of her family. Zacharias ends the book with a call to action, urging readers to get involved and not be afraid of interfering. “If you have a feeling something isn’t quite right with a child, don’t be so quick to rationalize it away. Don’t wait to ask yourself, ‘What more could I have done?’ Instead ask, ‘What will I regret not having done if this child turns up dead?’ Then, whatever that thing is, do it. Don’t wait on someone else to intervene,  because chances are, you are the only one who can save that child.” You are the only one who can save future Karlys and Xzayvions.

Though it is an undeniably sobering read, A Silence of Mockingbirds just may be one of the most important books you’ll ever open. What page are you on?

The One Book One Community summer series culminates with a discussion panel led by journalist Donna Britt and featuring Zacharias and experts from the medical, legal, and childcare fields, that takes place this very Thursday, July 26, at LSU’s Cox Communications Academic Center for Student Athletes. The event is free and open to the public and starts at 7 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m.

For more information on this important book (including the book trailer) and the author event, visit readonebook.org and the OBOC Infoguide.

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