Seven years after the events that stun London, the only survivor of a heinous crime finally tells her story to a patient psychologist. The labyrinthine caves of wartime London serve as a metaphor for twisted childhood secrets, the terrors of loneliness and the desperation for connection. When Anita Naidu moves to Greenwich with her family after her mother's death, her world is forever off kilter, mourning the woman who held their half-English-half-Pakistani family together. At thirteen, Anita is barely visible to the others, teen-aged twin sisters, a brother, only her sad-eyed father a temporary link to the past. But when a blowsy, interfering neighbor sets her sights on the lonely widower, even that small comfort is taken from Anita.
On her first day at a new school just before summer vacation, Anita is seated by an outcast, the overweight, dark-skinned Denis, whom everyone avoids. Unperturbed, Anita adjusts, her isolated existence barely touched by this strange boy who answers every question with an inane reply. It is Denis's only friend who captures Anita's interest, Kyle Kite, who lives across the street from Anita's family. Kyle's home is in sharp contrast to Anita's disheveled, trash-strewn house, 33 Myles shrouded in mystery, the windows always dark, forbidding. Ever since the disappearance of Kyle's little sister, Katie, the boy has been a person of interest to the local authorities, a misfit whose mother never leaves the house, Kyle's grandfather serving as buffer between the family and the world.
Why Denis and Kyle are friends is a mystery Anita never solves; she is content to be allowed to walk the streets with them, exploring junkyards and the slimy banks of the Thames in search of the sand caves used as shelters during the war. Kyle is obsessed with finding the caves, Denis and Anita his willing companions as the days of summer pass slowly by, heat weighing oppressively upon them. Fascinated with Kyle, his eyes "a pale, flat grey, the colour of lampposts and gutters", Anita longs to learn his secrets, the strange dissociation that that comes over him at times, the fate of his sister, the enigmatic mother who hides behind the confines of her home. Bit by bit, Anita pieces together Kyle's story, yearning to forge a bond that will free her from the pervasive emptiness that fills her: "I'd never had something of my own before; I'd never had my own secret." Anita craves otherness, to know what others feel and think. It is this urgency for connection that draws her to the likes of Denis and Kyle, Denis because he is accommodating, malleable, Kyle because he is dangerous.
The author plumbs below the surface of childhood concerns, digging for the unholy truth, exposing the dark side of a society that expects its children to survive their tragedies, no matter how devastating, to hide the reality of pain in platitudes and amusement parks, not to speak of terrible secrets they are not meant to know. For all the bright promise of a child's world, Way reminds us that terror thrives on innocence, sewing seeds bred in dank places, only to sprout unexpectedly in deceptive bloom, deadly nightshade in a field of wild grass. Luan Gaines.