Every now and then a book comes along that surprises you. You start out thinking it’s a story about one thing, and then by the end you’re left with the world upended. Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Good Son is that kind of book.
The Good Son is the story of a family torn apart when the son commits an unspeakable crime against his girlfriend. Thea struggles to keep going after her son Stefan is sent to prison for the shockingly gruesome murder of his girlfriend, Belinda.
When Stefan is released from prison less than a handful of years later, it sends the family into upheaval once again as protesters gathered outside the family home bring a new intensity to their protests.
Thea and her husband Jep try to give Stefan as much normalcy as possible in these trying circumstances, but for every step he takes forward something happens to send him back to the starting point. Stefan has the idea for a project to help focus his time and energy and it starts to take off, but it also triggers an unexpected chain of events that turns everything upside down.
Mitchard weaves together a haunting tale about living through tragedy and trying to come out on the other side unscathed. While Thea and her husband weren’t involved in the crime, they have suffered along with their incarcerated son and there’s a lot of healing that must be done after he arrives home.
And there’s a twist. A very interesting twist.
The Good Son offers a very deep and complex conversation about the nature of redemption and the quest to find meaning in the aftermath of a life-altering event. It’s the kind of story that’s haunting and riveting all at once; like the need to look at a traffic accident on the freeway, The Good Son compels readers to keep going even as lives are laid bare.
On a personal note, I found Mitchard’s take on family life post-incarceration to be spot on; having dealt with a family member who was in prison and returned to society in the summer of 2020, trying to cope with his return and all of the long-buried memories it brought to the surface, while also dealing with the pandemic and my mother battling cancer, it was a lot. I could relate to Thea and Jep’s predicament while also understanding Stefan’s pain and anguish at being out of prison.
This is the perfect book to keep you company on a cold, dark winter’s night. It’s probably not the kind of book you’d take to the beach, but it would be phenomenal for a book club or discussion group.