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One Child: A Book Review

Leah York


One Child, written by Torey Hayden, is distinctive in its own right. Through a true story that covers five months of her life, Hayden describes her relationship as a teacher with a six-year-old girl. Their relationship would begin with a newspaper article, much like this one. However, this article was about a six-year-old girl who kidnapped a neighboring toddler. From there she led him into the woods, tied him to a tree, and burned him. Hayden would later recall that she should have known that the girl would end up in her special needs classroom. Shelia, the little girl who burned the toddler, was introduced to her classroom shortly. This was the beginning of a relationship that knew no bounds. From the start, Torey Hayden was intrigued by the little girl who withdrew from the world. Shelia came from an immigration camp where she lived with her father after being abandoned by her mother on the side of the road. The abandonment posed problems for all Shelia’s life.

Little by little Torey Hayden drew Shelia out of her shell by making her participate in classroom activities o. Each day a new activity was introduced and accomplished by Shelia, but not without hard work on Hayden’s part. Accidents were forgiven and outbursts overlooked. Each outburst was chosen with deliberate care to upset those around her, and as always, to gain attention. Just when Hayden thought they were making progress she had to go to a conference. Shelia reverted back to her old ways instantly upon being abandoned once again by the teacher she had come to trust. Shelia huddled in  the corner and tried to destroy everything and anyone that she came into her vicinity. Upon coming back and losing control, Torey realized that she had taken her anger out on Shelia because of her partial failure in helping the child.

 After this breakthrough their relationship progressed until the author (Hayden) was told of a spot that had opened in the hospital for Shelia. Due to the rapid change in Shelia,Hayden knew  she no longer belonged anywhere near a state hospital. She had an IQ off the charts and a personality that was one of a kind. This six-year-old child had burrowed her way into her heart, and now she could not resist the nurturing side of her that wanted to help Shelia.  

 To find out what happens though, you must read the book.

 One Child, considering it only consists of five months of Hayden’s life it contains a great deal of detail. Using details that captured the attention and the emotions of her readers, Hayden was able to make her story come alive in the hearts of the readers. Not only did she include her own story, as well as Shelia’s, but she made sure to include facts of her other students as well.  Their stories came alive through Hayden’s powerful prose.. Her grammar was accurate. However, Hayden’s words  would not be appropriate for a younger audience; due to the fact that it is a true story, the words used had to reflect those used in real life. A younger audience would not understand their meaning. On the other hand, the emotion she puts into what she writes makes the difference to her readers. It does not matter if they do not understand a word or two; they rely on the emotion of Torey and Shelia’s story to carry them. “‘I didn’t mean it,’ she said breathlessly. ‘I didn’t mean it when I said I would be bad. I’ll be a good girl.’ She looked up solemnly. ‘For you.’ I shook my head. ‘No, not for me. You be good for you.’”[1] The emotion used throughout the story keeps the reader entertained. From the time the reader picks up One Child, they will not be able to put it down.

 The only fault I have with this book is that it captured my heart and left me wanting more which is why I read the sequel, The Tiger’s Child, and will be reviewing it next time.

[1] Torey L. Hayden, One Child (New York; Avon Books, 1980), 219.    

Interested in more works by Torey Hayden head over to her website: http://www.torey-hayden.com/index.html


About wesleyanword

The Wesleyan Word is the official student newspaper of Wesleyan College. Operated and produced by students, The Word is printed twice per month during the fall and spring semesters. Online editions are released every Wednesday throughout the school year. Wesleyan College is a 4-year private residential college for women in Macon, Georgia. Established in 1836, Wesleyan College is the first college in the world to charter degrees to women.


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