Closed Doors is one of those books in which readers see the horrors of life through the innocent eyes of a child. Under someone else’s pen, this plot device could easily become gimmicky and overly childish. While Michael is indeed young and unfamiliar with life’s harshness, Ms. O’Donnell excels at balancing his innocence with his increasing understanding of the world that comes naturally with growing older.
As the story unfolds through Michael’s growing awareness of the seriousness of his parents’ situation, readers waffle between a sense of horror and amusement at the honesty which only a kid can truly speak. His struggles with Dirty Alice and his grandmother’s bad cooking offset the drama of his love for his father, devotion to his mother, and confusion over the emotional trauma the entire family faces. Michael’s voice rings true, with an authenticity well-known to parents. There is the right balance between adult understanding and lingering childhood obliviousness that Ms. O’Donnell exploits to speak her mind about the main issue at hand. She uses his lack of knowledge about adult relationships to drive to the heart of various situations, pushing aside all of grey static of adulthood to show that sometimes things really are as black and white as they should be.
Closed Doors is as much about watching Michael grow up as it is about the secrets one fails to hide behind them. The bruises on his mother’s face and the town gossip about the origins of those bruises takes their toll on Michael, but he maintains an impressive air of dignity and faith that his parents will sort everything out in the end. Ms. O’Donnell does not make Michael too young or too old but keeps his voice natural for his age and the era. The lessons both reader and Michael learn are powerful but Michael’s love fills readers with hope that good will out in the end. It is an impressive novel about an always controversial topic that perfectly executes the plot device of a child narrator.