Two children disappear into the woods beside Woodside Elementary School. Hours later one of them, nine-year-old Adam, is found alive, the sole witness to his playmates murder. But Adam is autistic and can say nothing about what he saw. Only his mother, Cara, has the power to penetrate his silence. When another child goes missing and Cara’s unsettling past emerges from the shadows, she has to ask herself whether her efforts to protect her son have exposed him to unimaginable danger.
Cara has tried to protect her son all of his life. When he has a fear of digital clocks, she tries to walk ahead of him and cover up the ones she sees before he does. When Adam is upset by the erratic movements of skateboarders, she drives blocks out of her way to avoid the places they tend to congregate. Cara works for hours teaching him to make eye contact, to answer people’s questions and to try to make friends even though “friend” is a concept foreign to Adam. But when a murder happens just outside the school in the woods next to the playground, Cara wonders if she should have done more. Has she, in her eagerness to help Adam verbalize his thoughts and to trust in people because they want to help you taught him the wrong things? Like maybe you shouldn’t talk to strangers? That possibly there ARE bad people that could hurt you?
The author, Cammie McGovern, is the mother of an autistic child. She knows the ins and outs of the autistic mind and how thoughts can take different pathways to get to the same conclusion that we would come to. Her insight is what made this book so real. I have read a couple of books featuring autistic characters and none of them came close to helping me understand the complexities of the human mind and the difficulties that the children and their parents face on a daily basis. The fact that parents of autistic children have to learn the subtle cues of facial expressions, for instance the raise of an eyebrow or the slight tilt of the head, as a form of communication was incredibly revealing.
As a murder mystery, Eye Contact starts out strong. There are a number of characters involved who could have done it, and at various times you are convinced they have done it. The conclusion of the book however gets a little confusing. The story took so many different twists that I found myself getting a little lost and at the end not really caring that much who the killer actually was.
It’s strength instead is in the relationship between single mother Cara and her son Adam. The love with which Cara will do or try almost anything to draw Adam out of his silent shell is potent. For that reason alone I give this book 3/5 stars.