When Nathaniel suddenly starts misbehaving at school and then stops speaking and a doctor’s examination fails to yield a physical cause, Nina is advised to take him to a psychologist. And there, without any prompting or leading questions, Nathaniel mimes anal rape by jabbing a crayon between the buttocks of a boy doll. A follow-up medical exam reveals evidence of rectal penetration.
When Nathaniel still refuses to speak, the psychologist suggests that he and Nina learn sign language and during a lesson, when asked who hurt him, he makes the sign for “father.” Nina instantly jumps to the most logical conclusion, that her beloved husband, Nathaniel’s father, Caleb, is the one who hurt their son. But it’s all a misunderstanding, in the heat of the moment Nina forgets that Nathaniel has always called Caleb “daddy” not “father.” Frustrated at being misunderstood, Nathaniel shows Nina the page for religious symbols in the sign language book and signs the words “Priest. Hurt. Me.” And a fresh wave of horror washes over Nina as she realizes the enormity of her mistake and this new startling truth that their popular and beloved priest has taken advantage of his position of trust and power to molest her son and possibly other children as well. The children, unable to pronounce Father Szyszynski’s name always call him “Father Glen.” But it is just the start of a tragic series of misunderstandings. When he can talk, Nathaniel suffers from a speech impediment and he isn’t really saying “Father Glen” but “Father Gwynne” but the adults don’t realize this, at least not in time to avert tragedy.
At the arraignment, Nina, knowing how the justice system sometimes fails these small victims, and wanting to spare her son the ordeal of taking the stand, takes justice into her own hands and shoots and kills Father Glen in open court. She afterwards feigns insanity, hoping this will save her from a lifetime in prison so she can be there for her son as he grows up.
But there are more twists and tangles ahead, and as the knots become untied Nina realizes that she has murdered an innocent man.
This was another gripping, un-put-down-able novel by Ms. Picoult and I loved following the maze-like plot, to the very end.