Social Justice Book Club: The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts Link Up

It's the end of June (already?) which means we're wrapping up the second installment of the Social Justice Book Club. This month we read The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, and hoooo boy, was it a book. An excellent one, but a heavy one, as author Laura Tillman explores the horrific murder of three young children by their parents and the long-lasting impact the crime has had on the community surrounding them.

Laura Tillman is a journalist by trade, and it shows here. She was initially drawn to the subject of the murders when she was assigned to write a piece on the potential demolition of the apartment building in which John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho killed their family. But sensing that there was more--much more--to the story than "merely" what would become of the building in which it happened, Tillman kept digging. And digging. And digging. What emerged at the bottom of that digging is The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, which is as much an account of the crime as it is an account of the context in which the crime happened, and the role it continues to play in the neighborhood in which it occurred.

In her research and account of her work, Tillman asks big questions and attempts to offer some small answers: What is it to be a witness, and is it important? (Yes.) How much do poverty and madness and desperation thrive off of one another? (A lot.) How do we punish those who commit unconscionable acts of cruelty? (We kill them.) How do we prevent something like this from happening again? (Unclear, but we start by not pretending it didn't happen in the first place.) What constitutes evil? (This is not necessarily a useful question.)

And then the hardest question of all: What went wrong, and what could have been done differently to prevent this from happening in the first place? While we can't go back into the past and actively change the course of events, The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts stands as a testament to the argument
that we can only begin to answer this question by acknowledging that such horrible things have happened in the first place. If we pretend they did not, or--perhaps a more common response--pretend they are anomalies, horrors that could never occur in our own lives, we doom ourselves to live through such horrors again and again and again.

If you've read this--as part of the Social Justice Book Club or on your own!--please share your thoughts. What did you think? Did you like Tillman's approach to her subject? How did this connect to (or not) Bryan Stevenson's arguments against the death penalty in Just Mercy, which we read in June?

You can comment below or link up to any writing you've done on the book elsewhere here:


Don't miss this Q&A with author Laura Tillman on what it was like to research and write The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts... plus, she's got some social justice reading recommendations of her own to share.

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