Cover image for Child of my heart
Child of my heart
McDermott, Alice.
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Publication Information:
Los Angeles, CA : Audio Renaissance, [2002]

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7 audio discs (approximately 8.5 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
Theresa is the town's most sought-after babysitter but she must cope with the challenges presented by the neighborhood's waiflike children, the tumultuous households of her employers, the mysterious compelling attention of an aging painter, and her young cousin's transition from child to woman.
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Compact disc.
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Audiobook on CD


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A young girl's astonishing, poignant first look into the turbulent heart of things
"I had in my care that summer four dogs, three cats, the Moran kids, Daisy, my eight-year-old cousin, and Flora, the toddler child of a local artist. There was also, for a while, a litter of wild rabbits, three of them, that had been left under our back steps.... "
Alice McDermott's haunting and enchanting new work of fiction--her first since the bestselling "Charming Billy," winner of the 1998 National Book Award--is narrated by a woman who was born beautiful. Her parents decided that her best chance in life was to marry a wealthy man, so she was raised on the east end of Long Island, among the country houses of the rich. On the cusp of fifteen, she is the town's most sought-after babysitter--cheerful, beloved, a wonder with children and animals, but also a solitary soul with an already complex understanding of human nature--when her favorite cousin, Daisy, comes to spend the summer.
The narrator's witty, piquant, deeply etched evocation of all that was really transpiring under the surface during that seemingly idyllic season gives her wry tale--infused with suppressed passion, disappointment, and enduring hope--its remarkable vividness and impact. Once again, Alice McDermott explores the mysterious depths of what seems like everyday life with unforgettable insight and resonant emotional power.


When her eight-year-old cousin, Daisy, comes to visit, fifteen-year-old Theresa, the most sought-after babysitter in East Hampton, commences a summer of transitional change and ebbing adulthood. While she deals with lingering glances from a 70-year-old painter and neighbor, Theresa must look out for the well-being of Daisy when she notices mysterious bruises on her legs.

Author Notes

Alice McDermott was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 27, 1953. She received a B.A. from the State University of New York at Oswego in 1975 and an M.A. from the University of New Hampshire in 1978. After graduating college, she got a job reading unsolicited manuscripts for Redbook magazine and did some freelance reading for Esquire. She has taught writing at American University, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of California at San Diego. Currently, she is the Writing Seminars Professor of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Department.

Her short stories and articles have appeared in numerous publications including Ms., Redbook, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, Seventeen, the New York Times and the Washington Post. She has written several novels including A Bigamist's Daughter, At Weddings and Wakes, Child of My Heart, After This, Someone, and The Ninth Hour. That Night was made into a film starring C. Thomas Howell and Juliette Lewis in 1992. She has won several awards including the National Book Award for fiction in 1998 for Charming Billy, a Whiting Writers Award, and the 2008 Corrington Award for Literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

There is something almost too good to be true about Theresa, the introspective and unusually perceptive narrator who recalls the summer of her 15th year in this engaging, taut novel by McDermott (Charming Billy). Theresa's Irish-American "well-read but undereducated" parents have little money but plenty of foresight; when they see that their only daughter will be beautiful, they move to East Hampton, Long Island, summer playground of New York City's richest, in the hopes that Theresa's beauty will eventually win her a wealthy husband. Because she has a way with children and animals, her parents have long encouraged her to baby-sit and pet-sit as a way to meet and impress the right people. This particular summer, her favorite cousin, eight-year-old Daisy, tags along as Theresa cares for dogs, cats, neighbor kids and a toddler named Flora, the only child of a 70-year-old womanizing artist and his fourth trophy wife. Entirely self-involved, the artist does manage to look away from his canvas and mistress long enough to notice Theresa, who finds his attentions exciting. Early on, Theresa discovers a tragic secret of Daisy's that she decides to keep to herself, which gives the summer and the book a wistful, melancholy air. As the girls corral their charges, Theresa offers half-innocent, half-ironic comments on the vanities and topsy-turvy family lives of her employers. This is another charmer from McDermott; it's evocative, gently funny and resonant with a sense of impending loss, as all stories of youthful summers must be. There's a whisper of maudlin sentimentality throughout, but Theresa is so likable, and her observations so acute, that one easily forgives it. (Nov. 25) Forecast: A tartly luscious lollipop-studded jacket makes this an enticing option for readers craving a taste of summer. McDermott fans will be thoroughly satisfied. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

One of McDermott's many gifts is her ability to portray adults, the poor clowns, as seen through a child's or teenager's clear-sky eyes, an illuminating and unsettling feat she performs with tender wit and quiet soulfulness in her exquisite fifth novel, the first since her National Book Award^-winning Charming Billy (1998). McDermott has established early 1960s Long Island as a redolent fictional universe, "the kingdom by the sea" where ambitious working-class Irish Catholic escapees from Brooklyn keep an assessing watch over the island's elite. Fifteen-year-old Theresa's parents moved there to increase the odds that their exceptional daughter will attract a well-off husband. Meanwhile, this princess-in-waiting, who is every bit as shrewd as she is lovely, keeps herself busy during this eventful summer, her season of passage from girl to woman, by caring for her self-centered neighbors' woefully neglected pets and children. Her sweet little city cousin, Daisy, a poetically minded stoic with unruly red hair and one of fiction's most captivating girl spirits, is visiting, and the two share a magical world in which lollipops grow on trees and pretty plastic shoes have cosmic powers. But Theresa soon realizes that Daisy is ill, and the cousins' intuitive complicity in concealing her condition infuses this magical novel with a profound poignancy. Resilient toddler Flora is Theresa's primary babysitting responsibility, and of all the men who circle Theresa, aroused by and wary of her dawning sexuality and self-possession, Flora's father, a famous abstract painter and still a hard-drinking womanizer at age 70, is the one this resourceful and pragmatic young woman is drawn to. Just as the calm and sparkling sea can conceal a tricky undertow, McDermott's gorgeous novel is laced with sly literary allusions and provocative insights into the enigma of sexual desire, the mutability of art, death's haunting presence, our need for fantasies, and the endless struggle to keep love pure. --Donna Seaman ~ Young adult recommendations in this issue have been contributed by the Booklist staff and by reviewers Nancy Bent, John Charles, Tina Coleman, Patty Engelmann, Sally Estes, Gordon Flagg, Judy King, Beth Leistensnider, Emily Melton, Shelley Mosley, Candace Smith, Diana Tixier Herald, and Linda Waddle. Titles recommended for teens are marked with the following symbols: YA, for books of general YA interest; YA/C, for books with particular curriculum value; YA/L, for books with a limited teenage audience; YA/M, for books best suited to mature teens.

Library Journal Review

Theresa's parents moved from New York City to that part of Long Island famous for its weekend cottages and summer homes. They rationalized that their beautiful daughter would associate with a better class of people and improve her opportunities for education and marriage. From some time in the future (it could be ten years, it could be 30), she remembers her 15th summer, when she was a sought-after dog walker and babysitter, dependable and patient. She took care of toddler Flora, daughter of a famous 70-year-old artist, with the assistance of her young city cousin Daisy, who had come to spend the summer. What Theresa doesn't tell reveals as much as what she does: the artist's attempt to seduce her, Daisy's frail health, and her parents' weekly get-togethers with friends from their New York neighborhood. The story works because it carefully avoids "had I but known" hindsight. Narrator Bernadette Dunne is equally careful to read the tale without melodrama. A great choice for a parent-teen book discussion.-Nann Blaine Hilyard, Zion-Benton P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Theresa, 15, is poised to be a heartbreaker, but she is also the ultimate caregiver. In early childhood, she left Brooklyn with her blue-collar parents for the fashionable Hamptons on Long Island, and her obvious beauty was to be her ticket to a prosperous marriage and easy life. Seemingly oblivious to her potential, Theresa moves serenely through the summer, gathering small animals and children in need of love and comfort. Prime among them is her cousin Daisy, eight, the middle child in a large, mostly male Irish family from Queens, who is so compliant that she seems lost among her siblings. Theresa invites this child of her heart for what is to be a luxurious and indulgent summer by the sea but, immediately upon her arrival, realizes that Daisy is not well. While short on plot, this deceptively simple story about a few days in the early '60s carries an emotional impact that lingers after the novel is finished. Theresa's intuitively kind treatment of her charges is a model of nurturance, and her brief liaison with an elderly painter is a jarring indication of the unplanned path her life might take. The teen's character is fully formed, her clueless parents are likable, and the other inhabitants of the resort are well portrayed, too; the whole is a perfect jewel of exposition. Readers will respond to Theresa and be awed by her understanding of the adults around her.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Excerpt from Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott. Copyright (c) 2002 by Alice McDermott. To be published in December, 2002 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. I had in my care that summer four dogs, three cats, the Moran kids, Daisy, my eight-year-old cousin, and Flora, the toddler child of a local artist. There was also, for a while, a litter of wild rabbits, three of them, that had been left under our back steps. They were wet and blind, curled up like grubs and wrapped in a kind of gray caul--so small it was difficult to know if their bodies moved with the beating of their hearts or the rise of their breaths. Not meant to live, as my parents had told me, being wild things, although I tried for nearly a week to feed them a watery mixture of milk and torn clover. But that was late August. Late in June, Daisy arrived, the middle child of my father's only sister. She came out by herself on the Long Island Railroad, her name and address written on a piece of torn brown paper and attached to her dress with a safety pin. In my bedroom, which she was to share, I opened her suitcase, and a dozen slick packages slid out--tennis sets and pedal-pusher sets, Bermuda shorts and baby doll pajamas and underwear, all brand-new and still wrapped in cellophane. There was a brand-new pair of sneakers as well, the cheap, pulled-from-a-bin kind, bound together with the same plastic thread that held their price tag, and another, even cheaper pair of brittle pale pink slip-ons studded with blue and turquoise jewels. Princess shoes. Daisy was vain about them, I could tell. She asked me immediately-she was the shy child of strict parents so most of what she said involved asking for permission--if she could take off the worn saddle shoes she had traveled in and put them on. "I won't wear them outside till Sunday," she promised. She had the pale blue, nearly translucent skin of true redheads, a plain wisp of a child under the thick hair and the large head. It made no difference to me what kind of shoes she wore, and I told her so. I was pretty sure they were meant to be bedroom slippers anyway. "Why wait for Sunday?" I said. Kneeling among the packages that made up her wardrobe, I asked, "Didn't you bring any old clothes, Daisy Mae?" She said her mother had told her that whatever else she needed to wear she could borrow from me. I was fifteen that summer and already as tall as my father, but my entire life's wardrobe was stored in the attic, so I knew what she meant. Daisy herself had six brothers and a sister, and even at fifteen I knew that my aunt and uncle resented what they saw as the lavish time and money my parents spent on me, an only child. I knew, in the way fifteen-year-old girls know things-intuitively, in some sense; in some sense based purely on the precise and indifferent observation of a creature very much in the world but not yet of it--that Daisy's parents resented any number of things, not the least of which, of course, was Daisy. She was only one of what must have been to them a long series of unexpected children. Eight over the course of ten years, when apparently what they had been aiming for was something more like two or three. Just the winter before I had spent a weekend with them in their tidy house in Queens Village. I had come up from East Hampton precisely to take poor Daisy (to us, she was always "poor Daisy") into Manhattan to see the Christmas show at Radio City. My Aunt Peg, my father's sister, picked me up at the Jamaica station and immediately dropped the hint that it was impolite and unfair of me not to have invited Bernadette, her twelve-year-old, to come along, too. Aunt Peg was a thin and wiry woman, only, it seemed, a good night's sleep away from being pretty. Under her freckles, her dry skin was pale, and her thick, brittle hair was a weary, sun-faded shade of auburn. Even as she drove, she had a way of constantly leaning forward, as if into a wind, which of course added to her air of determined efficiency. (I could well imagine her pushing a shopping cart through the Great Eastern Mills in Elmont, pulling shorts sets and tennis sets from the crowded bins--one, two, three, four, underwear, pajamas, shoes--dumping all of them directly from shopping bag to suitcase, toss in a hairbrush and a toothbrush, slam the case, done.) "Bernadette will have to find her own fun tomorrow" was the way she put it to me, leaning into the steering wheel as if we were all headed downhill. Their house was at the bottom of a dead-end street: narrow, painted brick, with a long driveway and a shingled garage and a square little back yard big enough for only an umbrella clothesline and a long-disused sandbox. Upstairs there were three bedrooms, and then up another flight of stairs, hidden behind a door, a finished attic that served as a kind of dormitory for the three older boys. There was the odor of children about the place-endemic to any house I have ever visited with more than three kids living in it-a distillation of the domestic scents of milk and wet socks combined with the paper and paste and industrial-strength disinfectant of elementary-school hallways. Despite the number of people living in the small house, there was a remarkable sense of order about the rooms, most especially in my aunt and uncle's bedroom, which was at the head of the stairs. It was a small, square room with one large window that looked out into the street. It held a high four-poster bed, a tall dresser (his) and a low bureau (hers) with a mirror, two night tables, and a straight-backed chair with a tapestry seat. The curtains that crisscrossed the window were white lace. There was a crucifix above the bed, a large oil painting of the Sacred Heart on the far wall--the first thing you saw when you looked into the room from the hallway--a mostly blood-red Oriental carpet on the floor. There was only one photograph in the room: my aunt and uncle's wedding picture. No sign, in other words, of the eight children that had been conceived on the double mattress, under the eternally smooth bedspread. Explanation enough, it seemed to me, for the apparent forgetfulness on their part that had yielded all those unexpected pregnancies. With the bedroom door pulled closed, they couldn't have found it difficult to make themselves believe that they were perfectly free to begin again. Uncle Jack was a transit cop. He had a pitted, handsome face, dark eyes, thin lips, and a thousand and one inscrutable but insurmountable rules regarding his home and his children. No one, for instance, was to walk on the front lawn. Or sit on the bumper of his car when it was parked in the driveway. No one was to call out from an upstairs window when someone was at the front door. No one was to play handball against the garage, or stoop ball against the stoop. There was no going barefoot around the house. No getting up from the dinner table without a precise answer to the precise question "May I please be excused?" No sitting on the curb or standing under the streetlight. No dishes left in the dish drainer. No phone calls from friends after 6 p.m. No playing down in the basement after eight. No sleeping on the couch--day or night, in sickness or in health--which put me in the smallest of the three bedrooms with Daisy and Bernadette, Daisy on the rickety army cot because I was the guest and because Bernadette was not going to have the wonderful day in the city that Daisy was getting the next morning, so she might as well, said Aunt Peg, at least have a good night's sleep. I didn't much care for Bernadette-she was plain and chubby, but, more to the point, she was also extremely smart, which made her mean. It was as if she had already weighed the value of her intelligence against the value the world would assign it and knew instinctively that she would be gypped. Although I always attempted to feel sorry for her, I was more successful at feeling a smug satisfaction as I placed my overnight bag on Daisy's bed and realized that all of Bernadette's Honor Roll certificates plastering the walls could not earn her my affection, or my company. Because whatever sympathy her forlorn expression might have elicited as she watched me from her frilly, dancing-ballerinas bedspread (a bedspread meant for another kind of child altogether) was dissipated by her questions about how I tolerated living "way out at the end of Long Island" after all the interesting summer people had gone. She refused to come along on a walk. It was too cold for walking, she said. There was nothing worth walking to, anyway, not around here-as if she alone had some experience of a better place, a place filled with worthy destinations. I understood even then that this cool disdain of hers was the last refuge of the homely (generosity and sweetness--which was what she saved for adult company--being the next to last), and was glad enough to leave her to it. There is no misanthrope like a chubby misanthrope. Daisy and I were free, then, to slip through the slight jog of space between the tall hurricane fence that ran along my cousins' property and the chain-link that ran along their neighbors', into an alleyway that no doubt had some part in Uncle Jack's listed prohibitions. It ran behind the series of dead ends that made up the neighborhood, and was broken here and there by even smaller paths that led between other narrow yards and other houses and out into other streets. We followed these smaller passageways randomly, emerging from between fenced winter gardens and storage sheds, or battered garbage cans and tangles of abandoned bicycles, onto streets neither one of us had ever seen before. I was, of course, within half an hour, totally lost, but Daisy held my hand with complete confidence, marveling, I could tell, at just how I knew where to turn. When we came out onto a broad boulevard divided by a series of lacy, winter-bare willows, I heard her catch her breath. All the little houses here had front sunrooms, and by some wonderful neighborhood consensus every windowpane of every one of them had been decorated with a sprayed-on parabola of snow. "We're in Bavaria," I said, and Daisy whispered, "We are?" as if this were a surprise, and a destination, I had planned for her. And then real snow began to fall. If you had seen the way she glanced up at the sky, you'd have thought I'd planned this, too. It accumulated first on the grass, and then, more rapidly, on the street and sidewalk. Our footprints were the first to mark it. We walked down the narrow divide, under the thin willow branches as they gathered snow, unable to tell if it was the yellow sky that was darkening above us or only the thickening canopy of coated trees. We threw back our heads and opened our mouths and stuck out our tongues and felt the snowflakes in our eyes and on our bare throats. When other children started to come out of the houses behind us, shouting, optimistically scraping sleds over sidewalks, we ran to get away from them, up to Jamaica Avenue, where the streetlights were already on. It was that odd light of early winter, afternoon turning prematurely to steel-blue night. We went into a candy store on a corner, its entrance already slick with wet footprints and its smell of newsprint and candy bars and the cold overcoats of men just up from the subway making us feel we had indeed traveled a long way. fs20At the counter, I bought us each a hot chocolate with the extra money I always put in my shoe when I took the Long Island Railroad. It was lovely stuff, made with hot water, not milk, and topped with whipped cream from a cold silver can. It was served in chipped and yellowing cups and saucers that smelled faintly of coffee--the warm rims of the cups delightfully dry and thick against our lips. Drinking it, we pretended to speak French-tossing the word chocolat back and forth between us--and hugging the cups like Europeans, our elbows on the counter. (Cup-hugging and elbows on the table being, of course, Daisy said, two more of her father's taboos.) After I paid, I asked for directions home from the man at the register, pretending I was only out to confirm what I already knew, although I'm not sure Daisy would have noticed anyway. There was a barrel of lollipops beside the newspaper rack, a handwritten sign, TWO FOR A NICKEL. Her parents had made her too polite to ask for one, so I casually bought a hundred of them, refusing a paper bag and stuffing them instead into our pockets, pant pockets and coat pockets, and then lifting the hem of her sweater to form another pocket and filling it as well. When we got back to the house, we dumped all of them over her brothers and Bernadette, who were lying on the living-room floor watching their allotted hour of television before dinner. The lollipops in their wrappers were wet with snow, some were muddy from where we had dropped them on the walk home. "Where did you get these?" Bernadette asked, and before Daisy could answer, I said, "We found a lollipop tree. You should have come." The boys said, "Yeah, sure," but Bernadette couldn't resist grilling us on the particulars, her eyes narrowed, her thin mouth opened skeptically, showing the little blowfish teeth. A house on the boulevard, I said. A willow tree. A huge willow tree filled with lollipops for the taking. The tree belongs to an old couple, I said, whose only child, a little boy, had dreamed of a lollipop tree in his front yard on the night he died, fifty years ago this very day. Once a year and only on this day, I said, they make his dream come true by filling their willow tree with lollipops. (And the odd thing is, I said, it was snowing in his dream, too, and it snows every year on this date the minute the old couple hangs the last lollipop on the tree.) They invite children from miles around. I'm surprised you guys have never heard about it before. The old couple serves hot chocolate out on their lawn while the children collect the lollipops from the tree. They hire tall men to help lift the smaller children high into the branches. The single rule is that you can pick only as many lollipops as you can carry home--no paper bags or suitcases, oh, and that the picking lasts for just one hour, from dusk to nightfall, to the second the first star appears. Corresponding to their son's last hour on earth, since the evening star in the dark blue winter sky was the first thing the old couple had noticed when they went to the bedroom window only a minute after the doctor had pulled a blanket up over his peaceful little face. Although Bernadette squinted skeptically through it all, the boys had their backs to the TV set by the time I'd finished. "We'll have to go next year," Jack Jr. said softly. But Bernadette turned on Daisy. "Is this true?" she demanded. Daisy shrugged her thin shoulders. There was a remnant of hot chocolate on her upper lip and the top of her wiry hair was darkened by a little skullcap of melted snow. "You should have come," she said matter-of-factly, skirting the lie. Child of my heart. Excerpted from Child of My Heart: A Novel by Alice McDermott All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.