Book Review: The Trophy Child By Paula Daly
The Trophy Child
By Paula Daly
The Trophy Child is an exploration as to what makes a dysfunctional family. Is it the combined flaws of each member, or is it just one toxic person who poisons everything? In Paula Daly’s terrific depiction of broken and blended families, one particularly messed-up family is caught up in the disappearance of a little girl, which eventually turns into a murder investigation, though the victim may not be the person one might expect at first.
As the book opens, it seems that a troubled teenager is causing havoc in her family, a blended concoction created by divorce and bad decisions. One of the best aspects of the novel is that as the characters develop, they turn out to be something quite different from what you initially expected. A sullen, angry person may have every reason to be upset. Someone who presents herself as selfless and caring is gradually revealed to be a calculating and cruel villainess. Unlike many lesser works that depict suburbia and the families who live in it with a nasty and jaundiced eye, Daly views her decent characters and victims with a kind and sympathetic eye, and throughout the book it’s made clear that the love of a family is crucial to happiness, and good neighbors make for strong communities.
In many ways, this is a children’s rights novel, which intelligently skewers the grasping, venal adults who have no right to run the world. Child abuse comes in many forms, and far too few authors have had the moral clarity to show just how cruelly devastating a divorce—and the subsequent remarrying and family reorganization—can be on the children involved. The title of the book illustrates a central theme: what right do parents have to expect their children to be perfect when the parents themselves are so critically and poisonously flawed?
There are a few weak spots in the plotting. For example, at one point, the detective should have the wisdom to admit that she shouldn’t stay on the case due to her increased emotional connection to some of the individuals involved. Also, the relatively upbeat ending needed to address the fact that the psychological and spiritual wounds left behind by an emotionally abusive family member don’t heal easily: it would’ve helped to have seen some clearer steps to recovery. In addition, the character of the son ought to have been developed further to match the complexity of his sisters.
Despite needing a little narrative polishing in places, The Trophy Child is a really intelligent and involving book. I found myself feeling deep sympathy with the children in the story and disgust at the parents who were supposed to be looking after their progeny. At the end, when one character is likely to receive a happy ending he really doesn’t deserve, another character wisely points out that he hasn’t earned his happiness, but those around him whom he’s hurt certainly deserve the joy that will come with his happiness.