‘In Custody’ by Lundy Bancroft; ‘Alicia and the Hurricane/Alicia y el Huracán’ by Lesléa Newman 

In Custody by Lundy Bancroft

Lundy Bancroft, a consultant on domestic abuse and child maltreatment, has written widely on the subject of battered wives and girlfriends contending with abusive men. In books such as “Why Does He Do That?” and “The Batterer as Parent,” he also examines the effect abusive men can have on their children, including how these issues may play out in custody battles and post-separation visits.

In his latest book, “In Custody,” Bancroft, of Northampton, takes a new approach to the topic. It’s his first novel, a story set in a modest-size town in eastern Ohio where a mother and her daughter suddenly vanish, leaving the women’s angry ex-husband even angrier; he believes his ex has kidnapped the girl. Police and then a local reporter are drawn into a story that seems to get murkier by the day.

On a blog on his website, Bancroft says he wrote “In Custody” to give readers an accessible means of understanding the problems in a court system that he believes allows abusive men far too much access to their children once they’re no longer living with a child’s mother.

“I’m hoping [the novel] can be a way to reach friends, relatives, and other people in our lives,” he writes. “Maybe it can even bring about some degree of shift in the outlook of individuals who have been … unable to take in what’s actually happening to mothers.

“The custody court,” Bancroft asserts, “has become the number one enabler of domestic violence and child abuse in the world.”

His novel begins with the volatile Kelly Harbison barging into the local police station to yell at the on-duty officer about how he’s certain his no-good ex-wife, Lauren, has absconded with their 10-year-old daughter, Brandi. The two parents share custody, and Brandi was supposed to be back in his care six hours earlier. Neither mother nor daughter have answered his phone calls, Kelly says.

“I’ve been telling people for months, no years, that this was going to happen!” Hey there. “Does anybody listen to me? No! What in hell do I have to do?”

The police are skeptical at first and tell Kelly they need more information on Lauren before they can declare this a missing person case. Meanwhile, Carrie Green, a young intern at the local newspaper, is assigned to look into the story, mostly because the managing editor thinks it won’t amount to much.

But for reasons Carrie can’t figure out, Kelly, who has all the charm of busted concrete, tells her details about his ex-wife and his daughter that make for a compelling story. And when Lauren and Brandi remain missing after several days, the police ratchet up their investigation, including leaning on a friend of Lauren who they suspect knows something about her whereabouts.

The FBI is drawn into the case, and cub reporter Greene is almost becoming a media star, writing front-page stories that are picked up by other papers in the region and beyond. Though she’s not yet 21, she has plenty of gumption and is soon going undercover to investigate another angle to the story.

The police are pissed that Carrie seems to know things about the case that they don’t — as well as information they haven’t released to the public. She doesn’t like them any better; she grew up in a poor neighborhood where cops pushed people around. But reporter and police eventually begin to realize they may need each other, especially as the case gets ever more confusing: Who actually poses the biggest threat to Brandi?

Among the plot twists is an affair between Carrie and a wealthier, slightly older journalist, Gavin Neal, who’s also pulled into the case. And though it’s a serious book, “In Custody” has moments of humor. A mother who listens to her 9-year-old daughter speaking to her — “You’ve been acting, like, weird lately? Like, it would be cool to know what’s going on?” — can’t believe the girl has four years to go before becoming a teenager because “she already had the routine down.”

If Carrie’s derring-do and journalistic savvy seem at times to stretch credibility, the young reporter is a compelling character, and her awakening to what Bancroft calls “the hidden realities of the child custody system” — the author has drawn on some grim, real -life child custody stories for the novel — brings an undeniable page-turning element to “In Custody.”

Alicia and the Hurricane/Alicia y el Huracán
By Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Elizabeth Erazo Baez; Lee & Low Books

Lesléa Newman, the Valley poet and children’s book author, has a new book out that looks back on Hurricane Maria in September 2017 and the devastation it brought to Puerto Rico. The story is in both English and Spanish, and the colorful, folk-art illustrations are by Elizabeth Erazo Baez, a Puerto Rican visual artist who lives in Florida.

In an author’s note, Newman writes that she’s long had a special love for Puerto Rico because her spouse was born there, and that she was moved to begin work on “Alicia and the Hurricane” after hearing of how badly Hurricane Maria had damaged the island , leaving many people without electricity for months after the storm.

Her new book centers on young Alicia, who goes to bed each night to the sounds of the coquís, small tree frogs that make a two-note song that sounds like “ko-kee.” And every night, Alicia’s Mami and Papi tell Alicia, “Hop into bed like a little frog, my corazón (sweetheart), and los coquís will sing you to sleep.”

Every night, as she listens to the coquís, Alicia imagines her simple song celebrating the beaches, forests, mountains and towns of Puerto Rico, and its niñas and niños — girls and boys.

But one day, Papi tells Alicia he has to board up their house because a terrible storm is coming; the family will have to go to a shelter. In the crowded shelter, where she sleeps on a cot, Alicia can hear people snoring, babies crying, and the storm raging outside — but she can’t hear the coquís.

A few days later, when people emerge from the shelter, everyone is stunned by the amount of destruction: houses flattened, trees topped, car overturned, streets flooded or turned to mud. And will Alicia hear the coquís again?

Yes, says Newman, who writes that she was inspired by how the people of Puerto Rico, helped by donations from people all around the world, rebuilt their communities. Her book, she notes, “was written to give hope to the children of Puerto Rico and to children all over the world whose lives have been disrupted by hurricanes and other natural disasters.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected].

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