The Scariest Nightmare and The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

I had the absolute worst nightmare last night (this morning?). It was a bad dream for a mom, but the worst for a special needs mom. I woke up about four hours ago, and I’m still shaken from it.

I I don’t get nightmares very often. I have scary dreams, sure, but nightmares are a different level to me; they can wake me up and stick with me, sometimes for days. Scary dream: my kids are locked in the car and I can’t find my keys. Nightmare: there is a man trying to get to my kids before I can find my keys.

Sassy pants Katy.

A couple of years ago I had a nightmare of the same variety that has stuck with me. There are times I think it would make a great book, but it hits so close to my deepest fears that I don’t know if I can write about it on a deep level. The dream: some force takes over the US, and we’re under their thumb. They didn’t like us, and wanted to convert us all to their way of thinking. Probably Al Qaeda, but all I remember is that they wanted to control us. The Uniss family decides that we’re going underground, running. And the reason? Our kids. Especially Katy. Because this ‘power’ didn’t like special needs people. They killed them right off the bat. I split off from my husband and my other daughter in order to make it a little easier, to make my other daughter a little safer. It was me and Katy against the world.

(In case you don’t know, Katy is my almost 10 year old daughter with Down syndrome.)

The nightmare I had last night was of the same variety. My world was a dystopian scene. Not sure if it was the whole world or just my part of the world, but everything was different. I don’t know why (and it never, ever happens), but Katy had been left home alone. And my plane had gone down on an island. Ted and Libby (my other daughter) were off somewhere. Katy was home. Alone. And I couldn’t get to her, and I didn’t know if Ted had made it home to her. If she knew what was going on. If she was lonely and lost and . . . I get upset just thinking about it.

Katy being Katy

I know that if something happened we have wonderful neighbors that would be at our house to check on us, and her. Katy’s babysitter lives across the street (so why she wouldn’t have, at the very least, been there is beyond me). Libby’s best friend lives next door, so I’m pretty sure she would be over. Our good friends live all over the ‘hood, and many have our garage code. Pretty sure that someone would come check on us or our dogs, or at least come over to get Ted’s crossbow.

But, in the midst of a dream, things like neighbors and crossbows don’t necessarily come into play. The moment I woke up I ran into Katy’s room and gave her a kiss. I was going to leave her with Ted later on while I go bra shopping, but now I’m bringing her with me. You never know when the world could end. And I think I need to keep her nearby, at least for now.



Donna Tartt is a great story teller. She paints a picture with a lot of detail without effort, showing instead of telling everything we need to know. Because of this incredible ability, I can picture the town of Alexandria, Mississippi in the early 70’s.

The Little Friend is the story of Harriet Cleve Dufresnes, a clever, bright 12 year-old whose whole world is framed by the death of her older brother, Robin. Robin was found hanging from a tree at the age of nine, when Harriet was just six months old. No one believes he did it, but no one has been able to figure out who did it. Harriet takes this as her challenge, that summer of her 12th year.

The family does not speak of Robin’s death. Robin was the bright spot in their world, and, when he died, so did a large part of the family. The father left town, the mother became a depressed recluse. Harriet’s big sister, Allison, four at the time of Robin’s death, seems to have witnessed something that day, and she definitely could have benefitted from a few visits to a child psychologist or psychiatrist. The extended family: a strong, slightly overbearing grandmother and three spinster-ish great aunts, all help raise the girls, but are also affected by the loss of Robin. And the black woman, Ida, who raised Harriet and Allson and is the closest thing have to a mother, remembers Robin well. So, when brash, obtrusive Harriet begins asking questions, they tell the most vague truths possible. And somehow, Harriet comes to believe Robin’s friend from the wrong side of town must have killed him.

The friend, Danny Ratliff, is the kid no one thought would grow up to be anything, and they were right.  Mostly because his family won’t let him be anything and he’s not strong enough to think any differently. Danny now, at the age of 20, is a meth-head trying to find a way out from under his crazy, meth dealing older brother and his downer of a grandmother.

Harriet decides that Danny killed Robin, without any real evidence other than some vague talk of him being around the day of Robin’s death.  And she decides to take him down.With the help of her friend Hely (which, in a bout of Tartt genius, we learn is pronounced Healy), Harriet stalks the Ratliffs, learning all about their felonious ways. And, because she’s not quite as sneaky as she wants to be, they learn about her.

The book is great, and Tartt tells a wonderful story. I couldn’t put it down. I was a little disappointed in the ending, though. We live through the climax and start to come down from it slowly. And then BOOM!, it just ends. It doesn’t ruin the book or the story, I just wish it would have ended ‘gentler.’ The actual story ends wonderfully, with enough mystery left to keep me creating lives for the characters for YEARS. (This is a favorite driving game for me.)

If you haven’t read her other books, pick up The Secret History and The Goldfinch (which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for 2013). I loved both of them, even more than this one. They are all long, but worth the time. I promise.



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