By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton
When one of Dr. Julia Cates’ pediatric patients committed a horrific murder, she was sued on the basis that she must have known her patient’s mental state, or if not, she should have. After a year of dealing with the media and having her standing as a leading child psychologist ruined, the judge ruled that she could not be held responsible and released her from the case. The damage was done.
As Julia was struggling to gain her equilibrium, she got an emergency call from her estranged sister, Ellie, a small-town police chief, asking for her help. A 5- or 6-year-old girl had shown up in the town square, dirty, malnourished and holding a wolf pup. She either couldn’t or wouldn’t talk. Instead she growled and howled.
Upon her arrival, Julia found that the child not only exhibited the characteristics mentioned but she had the scarring characteristic of severe abuse. The plan of the sisters was two-fold. Julia would attempt to gain the child’s confidence to the point she would talk and tell who she was. At the same time, Ellie would work with the media in the hopes that her parents would recognize their daughter and come forth.
Julia’s plan hit a roadblock when it became apparent that the girl was either a “wild child” or close to it. There was no assurance that she even had language. Ellie’s plan went awry when the media discovered that disgraced Julia was involved in the case. As Julia slowly began to make progress, she discovered that the girl had rudimentary language and an uncanny ability to mimic. Ellie met one roadblock after another. As the media attention began to wane, no parents were forthcoming. Pressure was building to place the child in a residential setting where she could be studied and presumably receive more specialized help.
In a somewhat separate storyline, personal relationships were explained and examined. There was an explanation of the sisters’ estrangement — Julia’s traumatic past and Ellie’s failed marriages. There were continual hints that the handsome doctor had trauma in his past. And if that is not enough, there was the mystery of the “wild child.”
As the novel progresses, the story lines begin to merge. The untamed girl becomes enamored with being read to, especially “Alice in Wonderland,” and was thus given the name Alice. The sisters realized that they had many characteristics and goals in common. The doctor becomes involved with the case and begins to feel emotions again. And still there are problems to come.