Child of My Heart (2002) is McDermott’s fifth novel. At less than 250 pages, it seems as if it would be a quick, pleasant read, but don’t let its size fool you. What remains unwritten, what McDermott cleverly places between the lines and in her readers’ heads, makes this novel quite weighty. Taking place over one summer, the novel is told from the point of view of Theresa, a beautiful fifteen year old girl caught in that awkward crevice between childhood and womanhood.
The novels opens, “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.” Daisy, the title character, is a quiet child who seems to have been forgotten in the chaos of her many siblings. Theresa has invited her to spend the summer because she understands the need for individual attention. Not long after Daisy arrives, Theresa notices the bruises. Dark and angry, they appear at the slightest touch and never seem to improve. Theresa realizes the serious implications and attempts to heal her cousin through various rituals. She does not alert her parents to the illness – she knows they will only send her home and deep in her heart, she seems to accept that Daisy’s time on earth is precious. She sets out to give her cousin the best summer imaginable.
The novel concludes after Daisy’s death, with Theresa taking three newborn rabbits into her care. These rabbits were mentioned in the first paragraph and the reader already knows their fate, they know how hopeless a cause it is. But there is something of a glimmer of hope in the face of sorrow – something McDermott manages to work into her novel seamlessly. Child of My Heart is a novel of loss, sorrow, and growing up, but it somehow manages to also be a novel of hope, release, and magic.