Published by Algonquin Books
Publication date: May 7th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
In 1956 there was plenty to worry about- the Communists and nuclear missiles, but missing children were an anomaly. In Waltham, Massachusetts, people didn’t even lock their doors and children moved from one house to another, playing and eating snacks until the call home for dinner. When twelve-year-old Jimmy disappears one afternoon this quiet neighborhood is turned upside down and suspicion falls on anyone who doesn’t fit the traditional mold. One such person is Ava, a Jewish divorcee. Both are enough to make her suspicious as is her voluptuous figure and distinctly untraditional way of dressing. This is what people see, not the Ava who works, in a desperate effort to pay the rent on her house and to keep her philandering ex from seeking custody of their son, Lewis. She is the last person to see Jimmy alive that afternoon.
For Lewis, Jimmy’s disappearance is traumatic. A gifted child, he is a puzzle and annoyance to his teachers because he asks too many questions and sometimes knows answers they don’t. In an effort to fit in he finally stops trying and begins to bring home poor grades. Jimmy and his sister, Rose, are the only two friends he has. They were all supposed to meet up that afternoon but Lewis and Rose got distracted and did not return home until later in the evening. Out of fear and embarrassment they lie to everyone and start themselves on a path of guilt that follows them through their lives but with very different results.
Is This Tomorrow succeeds as a mystery but with author Caroline Leavitt’s sensitive touch it moves well beyond that into a complex portrait of grief, love, guilt and understanding. For Ava, her fear over providing for the son she loves so much often obscures her ability to spend time with him or show him her love; worry occupies her every waking moment. The unsolved nature of Jimmy’s disappearance leaves both Rose and Lewis at loose ends. For a time, Rose assumes her brother’s identity, cutting all her hair off and wearing his clothes. Until her mother decides that a move is necessary for healing, Rose is stuck in a vicious cycle. She does not believe her brother to be dead and so fills notebooks with her own observations of potential suspects and letters to Jimmy. Once she finishes college she becomes an elementary school teacher, devoting her energy to protecting children. Lewis suffers the most, seemingly untethered by his friend’s disappearance. He graduates high school but has no interest in any more schooling and drifts out of town, taking odd jobs, finally ending up as a nurse’s aide where his quiet and soothing nature works well with the patients and keeps the prospect of real interaction with the world at bay. His one attempt at a girlfriend fails when
He stopped at a pay phone and called her, and then he began thinking about what she wanted from him, how he’d have to revisit his past and spread it out in front of her like a poisoned banquet. He had come here to reinvent himself, to start anew, and she wanted to take him back to where he had been.
When, after ten years, Jimmy’s body is found, all three come back together and struggle to make sense of what happened and what, if any role, they played in it. Is This Tomorrow is a novel set in an age where divorce, women who worked, and disappearing children were all unusual phenomena. Leavitt overlays this gentler past with emotions that do not change with the times, creating a world that is relatable even today. The book is beautifully, simply written, and well-paced with a story that begins with fear and ends with hope. Deeply satisfying.