Right Behind You is an emotional examination of guilt, resilience, and how we define ourselves. When Kip was nine years old he threw gasoline on his seven-year-old next door neighbor and set him on fire. The other boys dies and Kip is sent to an institution for juvenile’s who are violently mentally ill.
Kip/Wade spends years punishing himself. He is convinced that he is a horrible person and in some ways it is hard to argue with that. He is a child murderer. This book acknowledges the fact that no matter how much you want to you will never be able to leave yourself behind. There is no such thing as starting over. Guilt is not something that you can “get over”. In this case especially all that you can do is learn to live with it. It also explores the idea that our guilt and feelings impacts the people around us.
I watched aTedTalk by Bryan Stevenson about capital punishment and in it he said something that has become a watershed statement for me. “You are more than the worst thing that you have ever done.” Think about that He was specifically talking to and about men and women who have been found guilty of terrible things. That is a powerful idea. We as people are so complicated that we are never just one thing. We are never just evil. There is always more to us. Right Behind Youis a that one statement in novel form.
Considering the subject matter this book is surprisingly light and easy to read. There are horrible things that happen but most of it happens “offscreen” so to speak. I think that it could have been harder hitting if it had been a bit grittier. This might have been a case of “show don’t tell.”
I thought that the idea of rehabilitation and self-forgiveness were very well done. Kip/Wade works intensely for YEARS with various therapist and counselors. He put a lot of work into being a healthy person and even at the end of the novel he isn’t magically cured. He is always going to carry the burden of what he did.
I really thought that his father and stepmother were remarkable characters. Their support and acceptance was probably what kept Kip/Wade from wallowing in anger and self-pity. I wasn’t a fan of the love interest. I am not sure how much she added to the story.
Kip/Wade makes mistakes but he comes across a little too perfect sometimes. I think this might have to do with the fact that he is so angry at himself that he has very little left over to lash out at others. He has a period of rage and a period of depression but since the book is written from the perspective of years on you aren’t really hit with those emotions. He also adjusts to the outside world astonishingly well. There is very little time or preparation from living in the institution to going to school with other school. He is wearing the wrong clothes but other than that he He has very few difficulties.
If nothing else this book gave me a lot to think about. It dared to ask some important questions. Not only, “How could this have happened?” but also, “What do we do now?”