Reviewed by Amanda Keats
Judy is tired of life and going through the motions. She finds the rules at the school where she teaches too rigid, her daughter has moved away to university, her son is always busy in the den with his girlfriend and her husband is always away on work trips, working on his thesis. However, when she is asked to supervise her son's friend, Zach, as he completes a project at school, she starts to find life a little more exhilarating. The pair begin an affair in secret, driving off to secluded locations and sneaking in sex whenever they can. Inevitably though, something has to give and it's just a question of time before one of them breaks, or somebody finds out and forces them into a corner.
The Kingdom of Childhood starts as a love affair - a raunchy, deliciously naughty one at that. It also looks at Judy's childhood in Germany and the events in her childhood that have led her to be the woman she is now. Switching between the two eras offers context by showing Judy's backstory - a context which goes some way to explaining her motives behind the affair. The more she and Zach are together though, the more the lies start to spiral out of control and the guilt starts to drive a wedge between them.
The relationship between Judy and Zach is a fascinating one as the power within it shifts and the needs and desires of both of them alter. It's a shame then that the story couldn't be left at that and examined as a controversial look at what happens when a teacher starts a relationship with a student at her school. This in itself was a great theme without adding the bizarre and often distracting childhood in Germany. No doubt many readers will enjoy the backstory and Judy's infatuation with the boy next door. For me though, it was just not necessary and muddied the waters of a great book. While I connected immediately with the mysterious and intoxicating Zach, I failed to really connect with Judy, finding myself as complacent about her as she is about hurting the people in her life.
Overall, Coleman handles a complex topic well and writes beautifully. She examines some great issues and the book will no doubt spark heated debates for book clubs and book-lovers. Sadly though, despite the great talent Coleman clearly has as a writer, The Kingdom of Childhood just didn't manage to live up to how great it could have been.
Rebecca Coleman's website