“So that was all it took,” I thought. “That was all it took for me to feel like I had all the power in the world. One morning, one moment, one yellow-haired boy. It wasn’t so much after all.”
Chrissie is eight and she has a secret: she has just killed a boy. The feeling made her belly fizz like soda pop. Her playmates are tearful and their mothers are terrified, keeping them locked indoors. But Chrissie rules the roost — she’s the best at wall-walking, she knows how to get free candy, and now she has a feeling of power that she never gets at home, where food is scarce and attention scarcer.
Twenty years later, adult Chrissie is living in hiding under a changed name. A single mother, all she wants is for her daughter to have the childhood she herself was denied. That’s why the threatening phone calls are so terrifying. People are looking for them, the past is catching up, and Chrissie fears losing the only thing in this world she cares about, her child.
This is probably one of the darkest books I have ever read. An eight-year-old child killer tells her own story. How could we feel sorry for her – but we do.
Chrissie’s Mammy can’t cope. She tries to give her away more than once. There is never any food in the house. She is permanently starving – starved of both food and love. She steals sweets from the local shop and inveigles her way into her friends’ houses just so she can share their tea. Especially her best friend Linda, who for some reason is always on her side. Chrissie is rude and kicks and screams when she doesn’t get her own way. She wets the bed but no-one changes the sheets or gives her clean clothes. She is a nightmare, the ‘bad seed’ as someone called her, but how far would you go under the circumstances.
We know from the opening sentence that she has just strangled a toddler to death. But he’ll come back alive soon, won’t he. Like her Da who keeps dying and coming back. You’re too old to believe that anymore, he tells her one day.
But in all this, where are social services? Don’t the school or her teachers wonder why she is so thin and filthy with her tangled hair and dirty clothes?
‘Where’s your cereal box, Chrissie,’ asked Miss White.
‘Don’t got no cereal,’ I said.
‘Don’t be ridiculous Chrissie,’ she said. ‘Everyone has cereal’.
Except she really doesn’t. You wonder why no-one sees it. There is no-one to protect her. Particularly her Mammy and Da.
One of the saddest things I think is that she pretends to herself and to others that her Mam loves her. She defends this awful woman because she can’t bear to admit that she is unloved and unwanted. And her Da turns up now and again and doesn’t want to hear it. He prefers to block it out. It’s easier that way.
Chrissie is the narrator when she is eight. Twenty years later we hear from Julia, Chrissie’s new identity. She has her own child now, Molly, but is waiting for her to be taken away. She knows she’s not good enough to be a mum. Not good enough to deserve a second chance. Still the bad seed.
Are some children born to be killers or is it the hand they have been dealt? Can we ever feel sorry for Chrissie? It’s hard to imagine that you can, but by the end I was crying for the sadness of it all and the cruelty to her and by her. None of it should have happened, but it did and it still does.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole, the author and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.
About the Author
Nancy Tucker was born and raised in West London. She spent most of her adolescence in and out of hospital suffering from anorexia nervosa. On leaving school, she wrote her first book, THE TIME IN BETWEEN (Icon, 2015) which explored her experience of eating disorders and recovery. Her second book, THAT WAS WHEN PEOPLE STARTED TO WORRY (Icon, 2018), looked more broadly at mental illness in young women.
Nancy recently graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Experimental Psychology. Since then she has worked in an inpatient psychiatric unit for children and adolescents and in adult mental health services. She now works as an assistant psychologist in an adult eating disorders service. The First Day of Spring is her first work of fiction.