<B>The legacy of a brother's crime</B>She used to be Cady Miller, until her brother committed a brutal crime that sent him to prison for life and ruined their family. Now she is known as Jana Johansen and leads a carefully constructed life as a physician, wife and mother. No one in her new life has ever heard of Cady Miller including her husband and young son.
That Jana hides her real identity even from her own spouse is a testament to how thoroughly her brother Varney's crime affected her. It's a secret that pulls at her every day, particularly as she watches her spirited 6-year-old son grow up. Is it a laughable prank when Evan and a playmate tie down and shave the family cat? Is it normal mischief when he threatens the neighbors on Halloween? Are routine red-faced tantrums par for the course? Or are these signs of a troubled boy who has inherited his uncle's unstable mind? <B>His Mother's Son</B>, by first-time novelist Cai Emmons, is a page-turning hybrid part mystery, part family drama. There is the gradually unfolding truth of just what happened that caused Cady to abandon her own identity. And then there are Jana's struggles to curb her hypercautious parenting and her tendency to erupt at Evan for any perceived misbehavior. It's a maddening dilemma for Jana: Is her son simply acting out because she treats him like a problem child or is he displaying the early signs of mental illness?When a prison chaplain tells Jana that her brother is dying, she must decide whether to renew contact with the sibling she's denied for 16 years. She's surprised at the fierce love she still feels for Varney, whom she raised while their parents drank, fought and drifted through life largely unaware of their children. But Jana knows that seeing Varney means acknowledging her previous life, something that could finish off her already strained marriage. Jana heads to California and her brother still unsure of how to make peace with her past and whether she even wants to.
Emmons, an Oregon playwright and professor, offers a gift of a book, an affecting story of violence and forgiveness. Jana's ultimate choices neither easy nor perfect have powerful repercussions and speak to the need for second chances. <I>Amy Scribner is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.</I>