...[a] breathtaking novel ... It takes great skill to maintain the voice of such a young child believably for the length of an entire novel...For the most part, Navin manages to make Zach’s voice heartbreakingly believable ... The plot becomes perhaps too facile as loose ends are tied up and these parents who have lost their son in the most horrible way begin to move forward too quickly ... But ultimately, Only Child triumphs.
Only Child earns its worth by avoiding gratuitous scenes of horror in favor of a careful examination of the way one boy and his parents, and their community, struggle to survive — and stay together — after the worst has happened ... One of Navin’s strongest techniques is to evoke Zach’s experience with vivid sensory details ... Delivering the whole of this fraught situation through the perceptions of a young child is a difficult task, and at times the necessary simplifying of Zach’s understanding doesn’t serve the story ... Only Child doesn’t attempt to reckon with the political or racial aspects of mass shootings, and its sole focus on a wealthy family is a drawback. But paying attention to one child’s well-rendered inner experience of such an event is valuable, and all too sadly important for our world today.
Many novels have been written on the devastating subject of school shootings...but in Only Child, the event itself is mercifully brief. By Page 10, the shooting is over. Navin’s true subject lies in the aftermath; it is a story of grief ... by employing the voice of a child trying to figure out the meaning of every action, every reaction, Navin is able to explore one family’s anguish to a sometimes excruciating degree of detail, with an innocent appetite for description unavailable to most adults ... Though the wide-eyed perspective is an asset to Navin, one occasionally feels the constraints of having so young a narrator, whose observations can veer toward the maudlin, and to whom every cliché has the appearance of a revelation ... Navin is so skilled at depicting, even in glimpses, the adults in the story, one sometimes wishes she had allowed herself to include their perspectives. She is wonderfully awake to the ways relationships suffer during periods of mourning.